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Supreme Court in turmoil after four judges revolt against Chief Justice Dipak Misra

The four Supreme Court judges—(from left) Kurian Joseph, J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan Lokur—in their briefing alluded to the controversial death of justice Loya, who was presiding over the CBI court in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. Photo: Hindustan TimesPremium
The four Supreme Court judges—(from left) Kurian Joseph, J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan Lokur—in their briefing alluded to the controversial death of justice Loya, who was presiding over the CBI court in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. Photo: Hindustan Times

J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph alleged Chief Justice Dipak Misra was not following established precedents in allocation of cases among the judges

New Delhi: In an unprecedented move, the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court broke ranks and publicly questioned the leadership of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.

The four judges, J. 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. Consequently, they argued, this was “adversely" affecting the justice delivery system.

After submitting a seven-page letter of protest to the chief justice on Friday morning, the judges went public with their grievances and held a press conference at the residence of justice Chelameswar.

“This is an extraordinary event in the history of the institution. The administration of the Supreme Court is not in order and despite repeated attempts to convince the Chief Justice to take immediate remedial measures, nothing has been done," justice Chelameswar told the media.

Misra did not respond to the issues raised in the press conference or the letter and continued to hear the cases on his roster through the day. While Gogoi is next in line to take over from Misra, Chelameswar, Joseph and Lokur will retire this year.

Interestingly, while the letter made no reference to it, the four justices in their briefing alluded to the controversial 2014 death of judge B.H. Loya, who was presiding over the CBI court in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case.

Responding to a question on whether their protests had anything to do with allocation of Loya’s case, justice Gogoi said “yes".

Besides being an unprecedented step, the revolt by the four judges has the potential to snowball into a larger crisis, especially since national political parties are poised to take sides on the issue.

Addressing a press conference on Friday evening, Congress president Rahul Gandhi backed the four judges.

“Points raised by the four judges are extremely important. They said there is a threat to democracy and that needs to be looked into carefully. SC judges spoke about justice Loya and that too needs to be looked at from the highest levels of judiciary."

Explaining their unprecedented action, Chelameswar said the judges were driven by the fear that failure to communicate their concerns could jeopardize the institution of the Supreme Court and thereby of democracy.

The letter cited the irregular manner of assigning of cases by Misra as a particular matter of concern. “There have been instances where a case having far-reaching consequences for the nation and the institution have been assigned by the chief justice selectively to the benches ‘of their preference’ without any rational basis for such assignment. This must be guarded against at all costs," it said.

The judges also criticized the delay in finalizing the memorandum of procedure (MOP) on which detailed discussions were held by the collegium (comprising the top five judges of the Supreme Court) and submitted by the then chief justice to the government in March 2017.

The MOP is a document put together by the Union government and then shared with the apex court. It determines the procedure of appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.

Since the MOP submission in March, the government has not responded to the comments of the Supreme Court. The four judges have questioned Misra for failing to move ahead with the MOP.

When asked what the future course of action would be for the four judges, Justice Chelameswar merely said that they would be back at work on Monday.

The move found favour with members of the bar.

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan said on Twitter: “Truly unprecedented! Kudos to the four senior most judges of SC who addressed a press conference today to apprise the people about the extraordinary abuse of ‘master of roster’ powers by CJI in selectively assigning politically sensitive cases to handpicked junior judges for desired outcome."

Arguing similarly, senior advocate and Rajya Sabha Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, “If true, these are extremely serious allegations regarding change of benches, and if true they also reflect very poorly on certain matters of great significance in the corridors of power. I hope that they are addressed immediately because otherwise this is an irreparable assault on possibly the most important pillar of our democracy."

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