In a first of its kind in the history of country’s judiciary, four of the top five seniormost judges of the Supreme Court held a Press conference in New Delhi on January 12. The judges in question, who fall second, third, fourth and fifth in hierarchy at the apex court, held the hurriedly called Press briefing at the residence of Justice Jasti Chelameswar, and released a letter before the media they had written to the Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra. Surprisingly, Justice Ranjan Gogoi is the one who is likely to be the candidate who may replace Justice Misra when the latter retires later during the year. The other two include Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Madan Bhimrao Lokur. The judges said there was an urgent need to preserve the judiciary system to save the democracy of the country.
They said that “all is not well” with the apex court as they launched a sharp attack on Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra for “ignoring the concerns voiced by them”. According to the judges, they were compelled to take the unprecedented step as they had “no choice” but to communicate the same to the nation. However, when a mediaman asked if they would demand impeachment against CJI, they were cautious in the choice of words by saying that it was for the nation to decide.
However, Justice Chelameswar made it clear that the administration of the nation’s top court was not in order.This, he said, was an extra-ordinary event in the history of the institution aand that the judges were compelled to act in this manner for a simple reason that the CJI could not be persuaded to mend the ways of the court.
“All our efforts have failed and we are all convinced that unless this institution is not preserved, democracy can’t be protected in the country,” he said. “We met the CJI with a specific request which unfortunately couldn’t convince him that we were right therefore, we were left with no choice except to communicate it to the nation that please take care of the institution,” he said, adding that the four of them were only voicing their personal opinions, and had not discussed it with anyone else. Justice Gogoi added, “Nobody is breaking the ranks and it is a discharge of debt to the nation which we have done.”
Justice Chelameswar further said: “About a couple of months ago, four of us gave a signed letter to the Chief Justice. We wanted a particular thing to be done in a particular manner. It was done, but in such a way that it raised further questions on the integrity of the institution.” However, Justice Gogoi, on being asked if the letter was about CBI Judge BH Loya’s alleged mysterious death case, said: “yes.”
Loya had died of cardiac arrest in Nagpur on December 1, 2014, when he had gone to attend the wedding of a colleague’s daughter. The case of Mumbai judge BH Loya may have been the tipping point behind the entire episode, it is believed. Two petitions asking for an investigation into the judge’s death were assigned to a bench that the judges in question reportedly disapproved of. Judge Loya’s family has alleged that his death in 2014 was linked to the only case he was handling at the time – the CBI’s case of murder against BJP president Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter.
On why they chose to hold a press conference, Justice Chelameswar said: “There are many wise men saying many wise things in this country. We don’t want wise men saying 20 years from now that Justice Chelameswar, Gogoi, Lokur and Kurian Joseph sold their souls and didn’t do the right thing by our Constitution,” he said while signing off.
The following day was also a colourful day in the interesting episode. Nripendra Misra, 72, who has been serving as the secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office since the BJP came to power in 2014, visited the house of the CJI in the following morning. After being denied entry, he later said the visit was a personal one and he had not been able to meet Dipak Misra. He also said that he had gone there to hand over New Year’s greeting card to Justice Misra.
Democracy is in danger:Congress
Meanwhile, the Congress and others expressed concerns over the development and said the “democracy was in danger.”
“We are very concerned to hear 4 judges of the Supreme Court expressed concerns about the functioning of the Supreme Court. #DemocracyInDanger,” the Congress made a post on its official Twitter handle.
Reacting on the development, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said, “The points that have been raised by the four judges are extremely important. They mentioned that there is a threat to democracy. It needs to be looked into carefully. They’ve made a point about Judge Loya’s case. It needs to be investigated properly. It needs to be looked at from the highest levels of the Supreme Court.”
Gandhi said, “This type of thing has never happened before. It is unprecedented. All citizens who love the idea of justice, who believe in the Supreme Court are looking at this issue and it is important that it is addressed.”
The Congress has challenged Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his Principal Secretary, Nripendra Misra, went to the house of Chief Justice Dipak Misra. The party, which has called the judges’ allegations “extremely serious”, said PM Modi must explain the reason of the visit.
BJP views judges’ press conference as act of ‘indiscipline’
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has viewed judges’ press conference as an act of “indiscipline” rather than a “rebellion”. “This kind of indiscipline would damage the judiciary’s credibility,” said a party leader.
A country that is indisciplined, either in the classroom or in the Supreme Court, cannot aspire to greatness, BJP National General Secretary Ram Madhav said.
“We have to make India a country which is united, prosperous, peaceful, but most importantly, which is disciplined,” Madhav said. “It is very important for a society to imbibe discipline. Very disciplined men also can be tempted in front of a set stage. When you are in front of a microphone, you are in front of the audience, you tend to be tempted. Discipline is essential in a school classroom and in the Supreme Court, wherever you are. The discipline, the unity… these are basics that are essential for any country, not just for India. I am not telling you a secret. This is what our honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modiji is trying to imbibe in every citizen of the country,” Madhav said.
Top five facts on the Judge Loya case
1. Medical records show Judge Loya died of a cardiac arrest. Judge Loya’s family alleges that days before his death, he was offered Rs. 100 crores as a bribe to rule in favour of the BJP chief.
2. About two weeks after Judge Loya died, the judge who replaced him in the Sohrabuddin case discharged Amit Shah and ruled out a trial.
3. The family’s doubts have been rubbished by officials and doctors present during Judge Loya’s last few hours alive. A judge who was with him, Justice Bhushan Gavai, said there was no sign of any cover-up or mystery about how he died.
4. Justice Gavai countered the family’s claim that Judge Loya was transferred to hospital in an autorickshaw and without appropriate supervision. The judge was driven to a local hospital with a court official and a judge from Mumbai, he told media.
5. The CBI had alleged that Amit Shah, as Home Minister of Gujarat, ordered the extra-judicial killings of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a petty criminal in Gujarat, his wife, and their friend who was a witness to Sheikh’s killing in 2005.
Brief profile of the four SC judges
Justice Ranjan Gogoi
Justice Ranjan Gogoi is the 3rd seniormost judge in the apex court. He is in line to become the Chief Justice of India after Chief Justice Dipak Misra’s retirement on October 2 this year. Justice Gogoi has served as judge of Gauhati High Court and later Chandigarh High Court before being elevated to Supreme Court in April 2012.
Justice Jasti Chelameswar, the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court after the CJI, was elevated as Supreme Court judge on October 11, 2011. He served as judge of the Andhra Pradesh High Court and later as Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court and the Kerala High Court before being elevated to the Supreme Court.
The sixty-four-year-old judge was the only judge in the Bench who ruled in favour of the government in the National Judicial Appointment Commission Act case where the court declared the NJAC Act unconstitutional. He was also a part of the Bench that struck down 66A of the IT Act.
Justice Chelameswar is set to retire on June 22, 2018. He was part of the nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court that had in August ruled that Indians enjoy a fundamental right to privacy, that it is intrinsic to life and liberty and thus comes under Article 21 of the Indian constitution.
Justice Madan B Lokur
Justice Madan Bhimrao Lokur, appointed as Supreme Court judge on June 4, 2012, is the fourth seniormost judge of the Supreme Court. Before being elevated as a judge in the apex court, he served as acting Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, and later Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court and Andhra Pradesh High Court.
Justice Lokur’s profile on apex court’s website says he has interest in judicial reforms, computerisation of courts, and is the judge in charge of E-committee of the Supreme Court of India.
Justice Lokur was also part of the division bench that quashed the government’s order to grant 4.5% sub-quota to minorities carved out of 27% OBC reservation.
While acting as Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court, Justice Lokur suspended and ordered the prosecution of CBI judge T Pattabhirama Rao in a mining corruption case. He retires on December 30, 2018.
Justice Kurian Joseph
Justice Kurian Joseph was elevated to the Supreme Court on March 8, 2013. Elevated as a judge to Kerala High Court in 2000, Justice Joseph has served twice as acting chief justice of Kerala High Court. He served as Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court before being appointed as judge of the Supreme Court.
Justice Joseph was part of the high profile delegation to the Vatican City to attend the canonisation of Mother Teresa in 2016. Justice Joseph, along with Justices Anil R Dave and Amitava Roy constituted the Bench which heard the controversial Italian Marines case. Justice Joseph is set to retire on November 29 this year.
He was a part of the five-judge Supreme Court bench that held triple talaq as “unconstitutional”. In a 397-page ruling, though two judges upheld validity of Instant triple talaq (talaq-e-biddat), the three other judges held that it was unconstitutional, thus barring the practice by 3–2 majority.