Even as the controversy over the rebellion by four Supreme Court judges against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra rages, it’s important to question the gains that have been derived by the unprecedented act of these judges to wash dirty linen in public. Justices J Chelameswar, Kurian Joseph, Madan B Lokur and Ranjan Gogoi claim to have done public good by their open defiance — the “administration of the Supreme Court” was “not in order”, and that “many things which are less than desirable have happened”. If such were the state of affairs, the four judges had the option of presenting their grievances before a full court or even approaching the President with a petition. A third option was for them to persuade the Chief Justice of India to informally engage a distinguished personality from the legal profession to resolve the differences. By going public, the four dissenting justices have allowed the following to happen: Dent the image of the highest judiciary of the land; raise doubts in public mind about the integrity of the apex court; drag politics into an area that ought to have been out of bounds for politicians. They may not admit to it in so many words, but it’s obvious that they have a personal axe to grind. Else, where was the need for one of them (Justice Chelameswar) to say, in response to a media query, that it was for the nation to decide on the impeachment of the Chief Justice of India (CJI)? He ought to have outright dismissed the suggestion.
It would appear from the vehemence of revolt, that Chief Justice Misra had committed rather grave improprieties. But that is far from true. Indeed, the four judges who chose to go to the Press and even release a letter they had written to the Chief Justice, said that they were upset primarily over the manner in which the CJI had been allotting cases to various Benches. The Chief Justice of India is the master of roster, and it has been a long-standing practice that he is the final authority to do distribute cases to the judges at hand. Whether it had to do with a case relating to the death of a judge who had been probing a politically sensitive case or that of the Medical Council of India issue, the constitution of the Bench to deal with matters is the CJI’s prerogative. Since the four judges have not established ulterior motives to the CJI’s decisions, their lament is groundless. In any case, is the grievance over a roster such a deal that it should have been converted into a full-blown crisis?
Enough damage has already been done to the hallowed institution. It’s still not too late to remedy the situation. The Chief Justice of India and his brother judges must sit across the table and resolve the crisis. Nobody gains if the Supreme Court loses.