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A file photo of Supreme Court justice J. Chelameswar. Photo: PTI
A file photo of Supreme Court justice J. Chelameswar. Photo: PTI

Difference of opinion doesn’t mean we can’t see eye to eye: Justice Chelameswar on SC tussle

Justice Chelameswar says the CJI has authority to allot cases to different benches but that must be exercised with responsibility

New Delhi: Amid growing concerns over the state of the Indian judiciary, justice J. Chelameswar said on Saturday that despite a difference of opinion between chief justice Dipak Misra and the four seniormost judges of the Supreme Court, recommendations regarding judges’ appointments were going on.

“We do have difference of opinion. But that does not mean we cannot see eye to eye. We met two days back," he said.

Chelameswar, branded as the ‘rebel’ judge of the apex court for publicly raising questions on the leadership of the CJI and administrative functioning of the institution, was being interviewed by renowned journalist and commentator Karan Thapar on the “Role of judiciary in a democracy" at an event organized by the Harvard Club of India.

On being questioned that despite a new system of allocation of cases being adopted, an important number of cases (Ayodhya land dispute, Aadhaar etc) were still being heard by CJI Misra’s court, Chelameswar said, “He is the ‘master of the roster’ and if he thinks he can handle all the cases himself, let him do it."

When asked to explain what the term “master of the roster’" meant to him, he said that undoubtedly the CJI has authority to allot cases to different benches but that must be exercised with responsibility. “It must be exercised for the public good and not because you have it," he said.

The unprecedented judges’ conference also raised questions on whether justice Ranjan Gogoi’s participation, who is next in line for the post of the chief justice, would lead to his superseding. To this Chelameswar said, “I’m not an astrologer. I hope it does not happen but if it does then it will only prove that whatever we said in the press conference, was true."

He also said that he was not aware of the government writing back to the collegium proposing a screening mechanism for appointment of judges.

The judge was also in agreement with the need to have a transparent system involving audit of the judiciary.

On 12 January, in an unprecedented move, the four seniormost judges of the Supreme Court broke ranks and publicly questioned the leadership of CJI 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 regards to its administrative process and has taken steps to resolve the problem.

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