Home / Politics / Policy /  Justice Jasti Chelameswar’s lasting legacy: striking a note of dissent

New Delhi: With the Supreme Court (SC) closing for summer vacation, Friday marked the last working day for Justice Jasti Chelameswar who is set to retire as the second senior-most judge of the court on 22 June.

Chelameswar became a household name after he held an unprecedented press conference with three other senior-most judges of SC—Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph—going public with their grievances in January this year.

Saying that they did not want their judicial legacy to be marred by accusations that they had “sold their souls and did not take care of the institution", the four judges alleged that the “administration of the SC and the Collegium was not in order" and released a letter alleging preferential allotment of certain cases by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

The press conference has been followed by an unprecedented public debate around the Indian judiciary, the third pillar of democracy.

Born on 23 June 1953 at Pedamuttevi, Movva Mandal in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, Chelameswar completed his law degree from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, in 1976.

In 2015, Justice Chelameswar authored the sole dissent in the National Judicial Appointments Commission case-

He was designated as senior counsel in 1995 and appointed as additional advocate general in October 1995.

He was elevated as a judge of the Andhra Pradesh high court in May 1999.

After serving as the chief justice of Gauhati high court and chief justice of Kerala high court, Justice Chelameswar was promoted as a judge in SC in October 2011.

After nearly seven years at the apex court, Chelameswar’s legacy is set to endure. In 2015, he authored the sole dissent in the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) case.

Criticising the present collegium system and seeking more transparency in the process of judicial appointments, Chelameswar opened his dissenting opinion, saying: “We, the members of the judiciary, exult and frolic in our emancipation from the other two organs of the State (Legislature and Executive). But have we developed an alternate constitutional morality to emancipate us from the theory of checks and balances, robust enough to keep us in control from abusing such independence?"

Passed by Parliament in 2014, the NJAC Act sought to change the existing collegium system of appointment of judges to the higher courts of law, by replacing it with a commission with members suggested by the government and the opposition, along with members from the judicial fraternity.

SC by a vote of 4:1 declared the NJAC Act unconstitutional.

An ardent advocate of judicial transparency, Chelameswar had even refused to attend a collegium meeting in September 2016 for its opaqueness. Subsequently, in October 2017, SC decided to make the “Collegium Resolutions" public by publishing them on its website. He was also part of the nine-judge bench that delivered the landmark privacy judgement.

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