New Delhi: Today being the last working day for Justice J. Chelameswar as a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, he was seen sitting in the courtroom of the Chief Justice, Dipak Misra, along with Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, putting to rest rumours of a rift between the two most senior judges for now.
Justice Chelameswar had recently turned down an invite from the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) for attending his farewell as well.
It is a customary practice for a retiring judge to sit with the chief justice on his last day as a sitting judge of the Supreme Court.
Set to retire on 22 June, Justice Chelameswar has been branded as the ‘rebel’ judge of the apex court for publicly raising questions on the leadership of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and the administrative functioning of the institution.
He was part of the unprecedented press conference of senior judges in January that raised the issue of improper allocation of cases and since then has spoken about the administrative issue at other forums, most recently in an interview to Karan Thapar on 7 April.
When he was questioned at the event that despite a new system of allocation of cases being adopted, an important number of cases (such as Ayodhya land dispute, Aadhaar) were still being heard by Justice Misra’s court, Justice Chelameswar responded, “He is the ‘master of the roster’ and if he thinks he can handle all the cases himself, let him do it."
He has also been seen taking a step back from crossing paths with the chief justice when it came to the exercise of administrative powers in the Supreme Court. This goes back to when a bench led by the chief justice had dismissed a plea challenging his prerogative to allot cases and decide composition of benches of the apex court. A day later, on 12 April, he refused to hear a plea challenging the system of allocation of cases by the chief justice. He justified his refusal thus: “I don’t want another reversal of my order in 24 hours. Let the country decide its own course."
On 12 January, in an unprecedented move, the four seniormost judges of the Supreme Court broke ranks and publicly questioned the leadership of Justice Dipak Misra. The four judges—Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph—alleged that the chief justice was not following established precedents in allocation of cases among the judges.
The apex court has since been in turmoil with regard to its administrative process and has taken steps to resolve the problem.