Allow me to highlight the introductory keywords for today- “Sad”, “Shocking”, “Pained”, “Unfortunate”, “Darkest Day” and “Unprecedented”. Now let me highlight the concluding keywords of the statement for today- “Judiciary”, “Judicial System”, “Democracy”. The keywords which fell as a reason for such events was – “Compelling”. Of course, Unprecedented, I am neither pained, shocked, sad and nor am I finding it the darkest day and unfortunate. The beauty of me not elaborating the above-mentioned statement any further is because I am neither someone with infinite judicial immunity nor am I a Supreme Court judge. I am purely and wholly intrigued at the sole keyword – Compelling – its timing and its implications.
The compulsion of an unprecedented press conference indicting the Chief Justice of India (CJI) for manipulating the case allocation as the Master of Rosters compels asking the question of such an outburst. The CJI is indeed the master of rosters and he alone holds the prerogative as to who gets to adjudicate over what kind of cases. The problem which compelled the senior most judges is that certain cases according to them were marked out of the rosters, and some of the cases which were being adjudicated by them were taken from them and marked to some other benches. As alleged by the dissuaded judges, this is a serious allegation of cherry picking certain sensitive cases to certain “favourable” benches. Now, if this is only an administrative wrong doing, its implications are far reaching as to what is going to be the fate of such a ‘sensitive’ case when it has superceded the senior judges towards junior judges. Would Courtroom no.XYZ hearing a matter have a different outcome than Courtroom no. ABC hearing the same matter? It also compels asking that does it mean that the CJI does not have confidence in Courtroom no. DEF passing an order which he deems fit. Also, it compels asking further as to why Courtroom no. EFG was interested in hearing such a “sensitive” case? If the CJI did not mark the case, he did not mark the case. The pendency of other cases is far from over, and it is not that they were left deprived of cases thereby making the senior most judges sitting jobless in their courtrooms.
The timing of compulsion raises a very interesting dynamic of why now. Of course, Judge Loya Death Case is perhaps a matter of significance, but it further compels to ask the question as to why only after the Judge Loya death case marking by the CJI act as the last straw. Justice Karnan raised some valuable issues and he was sent to jail. An Ex-CM’s suicide note indicted many judges of the Supreme Court and that suicide note were not entertained. Is Judge Loya death case of such magnitude that it could eclipse perhaps more damaging and nerve wrecking instances of the recent past and the way they were dealt by the Supreme Court?
The second compulsion of a senior leftist politician going to the residence of the J. Chelameswar after the press conference opens the Pandora’s box of its own. Not a can of worms, but the Pandora’s box itself. The norm is that a judge when someone becomes a judge, the biggest sacrifice is his/her recusal from regular social life. A judge must play the role of Ceaser’s Wife. A judge cannot be seen in public life let alone meeting politicians. It is neither that J. Chelameswar became a judge on the turn of the year, nor that D. Raja became a politician after the ‘last Christmas’. Hence, there is no question of a rookie mistake happening either from the end of the judge or the politician. Both the parties are of sound mind and in decades of public life who clearly know what their bounds are. Thanks to the Collegium system (which J. Chelameswar was very vocal against) a judge and a politician really have no business with each other. There could be functions in the public where they could meet. A meeting of public significance like an inauguration, a seminar, etc. i.e. in front of the camera. It is done primarily to maintain the integrity of the constitutional separation of powers. The judges meeting politicians especially after such an unprecedented event of the judicial history is as unprecedented as that unprecedented event.
The timing again of such a meeting compels asking various questions to J. Chelameswar than the politician who chose the most opportune moment to visit him. Growing up in India has made us sceptic and pragmatic enough to understand how exactly the system works. Hence, this photo-op seemed to be deliberate and has been done to convey some subtle message to some sections of the polity than the viewers like you and me. The only other time the politicians and the judges have any business is when the judge is summoned to parliament for impeachment proceedings. Compelling enough.
One compulsion that did not occur was of rest of the 20 judges who are also Supreme Court judges. Why only the ones in the Collegium seemed antagonized? If the CJI is ‘first among the equals’, then a pertinent question should be asked as to why rest of the judges did not participate in a press conference with equal passion to save the temple of justice. Either with the disenchanted judges or against them.
Therefore, most judges did not get involved in this controversy is compelling enough to infer that it is only some agenda of the collegium and its members. It also compels one to ask whether the CJI is now only as powerful as his Collegium? Why only” four of us” were convinced and not the rest?
The fact that most of Supreme court judges have not revolted unlike an event in 2004 at Punjab and Haryana High court where all the judges went on a mass leave for a day as a symbol of protest the sitting Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana Mr. B K Roy gives some hope for the democracy to believe that it is intact. There is something wrong, no doubt. Naturally, there is a reaction from the opposition parties and a meeting of judge and a politician. It cannot be denied. The next obvious question that one is compelled to ask is whether there is any particularly ‘sensitive’ case that the CJI is presiding over and it could be political in nature. The over reactive opposition eager to start taking sides leaves no matter in the courtroom of the Supreme Court and are out in the open to propagate and colour any judgment that would be passed by the Supreme Court. One needs to now wait and watch how it pans out the disposal of justice from his courtroom.
The story is only half complete as neither the CJI nor the ruling government responded to the events. A fair trial compels fair hearing, even if now, the media is conducting the trial. Audi Altrem Partem is a fundamental right. If the CJI is not addressing the media and nation in the same coin, then it may be perceived that he is at fault. But if he does address the media then he is openly shaming the institution that he oversees. It will be interesting to see what the CJI is compelled to do.
After all, Justice should not only be done, but should also ‘seem’ to have been done. I am compelled to say this to all the judges
Judges aisa kaam na karo, Ram ka naam badnaam na karo.