The unprecedented event of four senior judges of the apex court addressing a press conference is a bit consternating. The subject of dispute, which has been illuminated for the nation, is exclusive – and in my opinion, it is unlike the disputes which have erupted in judicial history.
The conflict between the government and judiciary is very well-know. The conflict inside the judiciary, however, is very subtle. In that context, the senior judges’ decision to go public with the dispute was almost miraculous. Jutice K Joseph, J Chelameswar, R Gogoi and MB Lokur are the four from the collegium of the Supreme Court (SC), which comprises of five judges including the Chief Justice of India (CJI). They also made a letter public which had been addressed to the CJI, a couple of months back.
In the 7-page letter, the judges have made it clear that the allocation of cases to the benches is a prerogative of the CJI, as he is regarded as the ‘master of the roster’. But, this should be done according to the traditions and the time-honoured conventions of the SC. It should not be an arbitrary decision of the CJI.
The judges accused the CJI of something synonymous to favouritism. Their letter says: “There have been instances where case having far reaching consequences for the Nation and the institution had been assigned by the Chief Justices of the Court selectively to the benches ‘of their preference’ without any rationale basis for such assignment. “ What can possibly be inferred from this excerpt of the letter is that these four judges are perhaps being sidelined and are not being entertained in crucial judicial processes.
The letter also raised questions over the Memorandum of Procedure, which is supposed to be a matter for the Constitutional Bench. However, it was dealt by another bench – and that too, by apparently neglecting the judges from the collegium. Furthermore, the letter raised concerns over the recent case of CS Karnan and its discussion of mechanisms (other than impeachment) required to address such issues.
Several legal professional and former judges (who had devoted most of their lives to the judiciary) reacted to the issue. Many of them considered the incident to be newfangled. Former CJIs, TS Thakur and KG Balakrishnan, criticised the judges’ decision and raised concerns over its impact on the esteem of judiciary. Manan Mishra, the Bar Council of India (BCI) chairman, also disagreed with this act and suggested that the matter should have been sorted out mutually. The Attorney General, K K Venugopal, said that the press conference could have been avoided.
The incident has perturbed the common man, since it has now made the doubts (which were overlayed by dust) quite clear. The Indian judiciary is under a great threat. It is also suffering from several monumental diseases since long, which have not received serious attention, as was required. For instance, the problems of nepotism in judicial appointments and that of accountability have been subtle till date. However, there have been no firm moves to counter them.
Still, in my opinion, the people have a reverence to the judiciary, more than what they have for the other pillars of democracy. I believe that what the judges did was exactly what they needed to do. The ultimate sovereign in a democracy is the people – and they must not be kept under the illusion that the judicial system of their country is working well, without any impediment and without any partiality.
The corruption in the judiciary is sensed well by the people. But, the lack of transparency and accountability pours dust over these doubts. The cases which have compelled us to think about about the frailty in judicial decisions are of enormous thought. In fact, one can easily cite one or two such cases if they think about it deeply.
This vital conundrum is why one should believe with an open heart – and also close their eyes on the judiciary, if need be. Right now, the solution to this conundrum doesn’t exhibit vigor. But, it can be hoped that, with time, the scenario will change, and more unprecedented events will emerge – which will definitely add some flavour to the solution.