Eventful tenure of CJI Misra
Few Chief Justices of India have had as eventful a tenure as the outgoing Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, who retires on October 2. The speed at which the Supreme Court of India delivered judgments on intricate and vital issues has been remarkable under CJI Misra. Last week, the apex court pronounced more than 40 judgments, 20 of which were delivered by benches presided over by Misra. His 13-month tenure as the CJI witnessed a number of extraordinary moments including allegations of corruption, the threat of impeachment and a revolt by four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court. But Justice Misra did not let any of these issues to deviate him from his primary task. Initially, he was alleged to have a soft corner for BJP after he was linked to a medical admission scam. A debate was kicked off in the judicial circles on the touchy subject of corruption in the judiciary. Then came the most talked-about incident of four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court holding a press conference and telling the media that they have lost confidence in the CJI as he acts in a partisan manner under which he allocates important cases to a select group of favourite judges. This unprecedented act on the part of some senior-most judges of the Supreme Court instantly brought the functioning of the apex court under a cloud. But Justice Misra handled the situation deftly and with grace. He did not reply to the charges levelled by his colleagues and continued working as before. In its bid to embarrass the government, Congress had brought an impeachment motion against CJI Misra but after a careful perusal of the charges, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu did not give his permission to accept the impeachment motion. The charges brought by Congress against the CJI were found to be frivolous in nature and baseless. But these problems did not affect his work or commitment to his profession as he kept on delivering important verdicts one after the other throughout his tenure as the CJI.
Though the opposition parties and some quarters in the judiciary believed that Justice Misra had an understanding with the BJP government at the Centre, his court decisions did not quite follow this premise. In one of the most important court decisions, the Supreme Court had cancelled the Delhi High Court order on the power tussle between the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi and AAP government of Delhi. In a detailed court order, the SC examined the roles that are supposed to be played by Delhi government, L-G and the Centre and their respective jurisdiction for the governance of Delhi. It announced that the elected government of Delhi is entitled to rule the state in all matters except for three areas that are reserved as the Centre's jurisdiction. This was nothing short of a judicial coup at a time when the L-G was declared the de facto administrator of Delhi. The SC verdict so cleanly delineated the respective jurisdictions of the three constitutional functionaries in Delhi that it left no room for any confusion. Another important decision delivered by the SC bench presided over by CJI Dipak Misra was one on Aadhaar. The top court maintained that the Aadhaar law is legal and the government can make it mandatory for disbursal of government funds or payment of subsidies but private firms including mobile companies and banks cannot ask for it. Appreciating it as an original idea to beat corruption besides giving the citizens an identification number, the SC allowed the governments to seek and use Aadhaar number to stop fraud and duplication in the transfer of government money to the intended beneficiaries. There are many other instances when the erudite and scholarly interpretation of the constitution by benches presided over by Justice Misra while dealing with cases of vital importance drew the appreciation of his peers as well as legal luminaries.
CJI Dipak Misra's tenure will also be remembered for the tussle between the government and the judiciary over the appointment of judges. While the SC wants exclusive right to appoint High Court judges, the Centre does not want to dilute its role in the process to select the judges. The dispute between the judges and the CJI that came to the fore when four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court expressed their dissatisfaction at the functioning of the CJI in effect strengthened the government's say in the recruitment of High Court judges as the government would argue that the SC's collegium does not reflect the united view of the highest judiciary and so its recommendations are not binding on the government. But instead of getting into an ugly spat with the government, CJI Misra remained gracefully focussed on his work.