In what comes as a massive and decisive defeat for those who were trying to politicise the judiciary and the highest court of the land, the apex court, today reiterated that the Chief Justice is “the master of the roster” and has the prerogative and authority to allocate cases to different benches of the apex court. Justice AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan in their separate concurring verdicts said that the Chief Justice of India occupies the role of “first among equals and is empowered to exercise leadership in administration of court” which includes assigning cases. The petition challenging the position of the Chief Justice of India as the “the master of the roster” had been filed by former law minister of India, Shanti Bhushan.
In the verdict reiterating the position of the Chief Justice of India as the exclusive authority to constitute benches and allocate cases, Justice Sikri stated, “As far as the role of CJI as master of the roster is concerned, there is no dispute that he is the master of roster and has authority to allocate cases to different benches of the Supreme Court”. Concurring with his opinion, Justice Bhushan stated that the Chief Justice of India has the prerogative to allocate cases and nominate benches to hear them. Elaborating further, Justice Ashok Bhushan opined that there are rich conventions and practices of the Supreme Court that are time-tested and should not be disturbed. He further held that the submission of the petitioner that the term Chief Justice of India under the Supreme Court Rules should be read as collegium consisting five senior-most judges is untenable. The Court further expressed the apprehension that “the erosion of judiciary in the minds of people is greatest threat to judicial system.” It also made it clear that the Chief Justice of India is the “spokesperson and leader of judiciary”.
A five-judge bench and a three-judge bench have already upheld the position of the Chief Justice of India as the master of the roster.
Earlier in April, a three-judge bench of the apex court had upheld that the Chief Justice of India is master of roster and has the exclusive authority to allocate cases. The Supreme Court had made this observation while dismissing a petition that sought to evolve a set of rules for constitution of benches and allocation of cases to the constituted benches for specific subject areas. The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra had then remarked that the Chief Justice is at the “helm of the institution” and that when it comes to the allocation of cases and constitution of benches, the Chief Justice has an exclusive prerogative. The Supreme Court had also dealt at length with the status of the Chief Justice as the repository of constitutional trust and that the authority which is conferred on the Chief Justice of India, is vested in a high constitutional functionary.
This must have come as a telling blow to those who politicized the position of the CJI and the entire judicial set up for petty political gains. The opposition even went to the extent of bringing a frivolous and baseless impeachment motion against the CJI, Dipak Misra in order to make a mockery of the judicial set up. Now, the way in which the Supreme Court has reiterated the constitutional position of the CJI, those who were politicizing the high constitutional position must be in for a rude shock.