New Delhi, 13 Jan. 18.
Four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court have been forced to take the extraordinary step of holding a Press Conference to flag serious concerns about the functioning of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of India. The issue they raise is of paramount importance: they have expressed the concern that the CJI was misusing his power as master of the roster to selectively assign sensitive cases to benches of junior judges of his own choice, ignoring established principles and the opinions of his fellow judges. The implication is clear: the judges are pointing out that if the CJI is assigning benches selectively to influence the judicial process in favour of an outcome beneficial to the Government of the day, this would amount to a grave threat to the independence of the judiciary. While the CJI is indeed master of the roster, he is only ‘first among equals’, and is expected to stick to well established, transparent principles in deciding the roster, and is also obliged to consider the concerns of other senior-most judges. What appears to have been the immediate trigger for today’s Press Conference is the fact that petitions relating to the suspicious death of Justice Loya, the judge hearing the Sohrabuddin murder case in which BJP chief Amit Shah was implicated, was assigned to a junior Judge. Though four judges reached out to the CJI in the matter, their concerns were ignored. And it emerges that this latest instance could be part of a pattern – a series of other sensitive cases including those relating to corruption cases and Aadhaar, have been assigned/reassigned to junior judges or the CJI himself in a questionable manner.
The four judges must be saluted for having shown the courage of conscience to bring such serious threats to the country’s democracy to the eyes of the public. There is no basis for the ruling Party’s claim that this is an internal matter to the Judiciary. The independence of the judiciary is a concern for India’s survival as a democracy, and the judges have only done their duty as custodians of the Constitution by placing such a matter before people. We may recall here how the capitulation of the Supreme Court to the Indira Gandhi Government paved the way for the Emergency; today, again, the four judges have warned the country that we are in the midst of another Emergency.
It is imperative that the judges’ concerns be heeded by the Government and the CJI, and reform initiated to ensure transparency and propriety in the functioning of the Supreme Court in future. The President of the country must intervene and advise the Government to convene a special session of Parliament to deliberate on the Constitutional crisis. It is also imperative that a credible probe be initiated into the circumstances surrounding the suspicious death of Justice Loya.
We also call upon the people and all democratic forces in the country to stand by these senior most judges in the battle for judicial autonomy and integrity without which democracy and rule of law will lose all meaning.
- Prabhat Kumar, For Central Committee, CPI(ML)