The Big Story: Crisis in judiciary

Justice Jasti Chelameswar’s discussion with journalist Karan Thapar at a Harvard Club of India event in New Delhi on Saturday has thrown additional light on the backroom workings of the Supreme Court, matters that Chelameswear and three other judges first raised at an unprecedented press conference on January 12.

At the Harvard Club event, Justice Chelameswar was candid in his remarks, breaking the convention of judges remaining silent outside the courts. Like he did at the press meet in January, Chelameswar listed what he said were the many crucial problems that were undermining the independence of India’s judiciary. Only this time, he was specific.

In a way, Chelameswar has raised questions that have been common knowledge for some time but have not been discussed by the media for fear of inviting contempt of court proceedings. Among other matters, Chelameswar discussed the disproportionate assets case involving former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, which the Supreme Court took over a year to decide. By the time the judgement was delivered in February, 2017, Jayalalithaa, the prime accused, was dead. The judgement came days after Jayalalithaa’s aide VK Sasikala met the Tamil Nadu governor to stake her claim to be sworn in as chief minister. Sasikala was convicted and sentenced to four years imprisonment. The delay did not serve the purpose of efficiency, the judge noted.

Chelameswar also suggested on Saturday that Chief Justice Dipak Misra may have failed to share with the Supreme Court collegium the response of the Union government to the new “memorandum of procedures” relating to how members of the higher judiciary are appointed. The collegium of the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, which makes these appointments through discussion and consensus, had finalised these guidelines in March 2016. If Chelameswar’s suggestion is true, the very idea of the collegium is being undermined.

Chelameswar said that the Centre’s silence on the elevation of Uttarakhand Chief Justice KM Joseph to the Supreme Court proposed two months ago was an embarrassment to him, which in the context of matters he was talking about meant an embarrassment for the collegium.

Since the January 12 press conference, hardly anything has changed in the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice in February did introduce a portfolio-based roster system, by which individual benches handle matters related to specific areas of law. But key cases, including public interest litigations, are assigned only to the bench that includes Chief Justice Misra.

Justice Chelameswar has done all that he could to bring the problems in the Supreme Court to public attention. As the administrative head of the court, the chief justice has the responsibility of replying to the questions raised by his colleagues in a transparent manner. Chief Justice Misra’s credibility will also hinge on how he responds to these challenges.

The Big Scroll

  • As Chief Justice Dipak Misra is backed into a corner, the Indian judiciary’s authority is at stake.   


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  2.   The early successes of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code need to be built on if India is to avoid its next great wave of corporate over-borrowing and bank mislending, arguesan editorial in Mint. 
  3. What does Donald Trump’s obsession with the Fox network say about his politics? The fixation isn’t benign or inconsequential – because, like him, the network has an aversion to the truth, says Charles M Blow in the New York Times. 


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