The Indian judiciary witnessed unprecedented scenes on Friday when four Supreme Court judges decided to come out in public with complaints against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, the four most senior judges in the country after Misra, openly protested the bypassing of established traditions in the court by the Chief Justice in assigning cases to benches.
In a letter that the four judges wrote to Justice Misra, which was released to the media on Friday, they said that the Chief Justice had violated conventions in his role as the master of the roster. The press conference evoked mixed reactions from various members of the society.
Later in the day, Attorney General K K Venugopal had said that the judges should have avoided speaking to the media. The Congress urged for a full court to investigate the allegations made against Misra amid rumours that the party was considering moving impeachment proceedings against the CJI. The Bharatiya Janata Party, meanwhile, accused the Congress of politicising the matter.
The Times of India led with the headline “4 Top Judges Revolt Against CJI; SC On Trial”. The “unprecedented press meet” has “plunged the judiciary into its biggest crisis, and has sparked a political storm”, it said. In a lighter vein, the daily also referred to the rebel judges as the “Justice League”.
The daily also reported that Misra had paused his work when the press conference began, presumably to watch it, and returned only about two hours later – with a “shadow of sadness” on his face. Communist Party of India leader D Raja’s meeting with Chelameswar, and the Justice Loya and medical bribery cases were also highlighted.
“Their Lordships Object” was The Indian Express’ headline. It also highlighted the judiciary’s “unprecedented crisis” and said that the four most senior judges in the Supreme Court have targeted and questioned the CJI’s conduct. Justice Kurian Joseph, one of the four judges who spoke to the media on Friday, told the daily that the matters they had raised were institutional issues and not personal.
“Supreme Battle” screamed the banner headline of the Hindustan Times. The day’s events could “have a huge impact on the functioning of the higher judiciary...and the credibility of the top court”, it said. The daily not only highlighted the various matters that the judges had raised, but also wondered if the “outburst” had ruined Justice Gogoi’s chances as the next CJI. He is tipped to be the next chief justice after Dipak Misra retires in October.
The Economic Times said that the rift in the judiciary has sent shockwaves through the society. It’s main headline said, “Objection Milord: Four SC Judges Publicly Critique CJI”. It also highlighted the judges’ main grievances and quoted former top judges as saying that the controversy and drama was avoidable. Citing top Supreme Court officials who wished to be anonymous, the newspaper said that CJI Misra was unlikely to make any changes despite the criticism.
The Telegraph ran the headline “Justice By Jugular”. The judges, while discharging their “debt to the nation” have set up an “inconvenient test”, the daily said. It also highlighted that it was “just another Friday” for Chief Justice Misra, who dealt with more than 75 cases. He was “a picture of equanimity that belied the storm rippling through the political landscape”, it said.
The New Indian Express highlighted the judges’ quote that they “do not want it said 20 years later that they did not take care of the Supreme Court. The “Supreme Strike” by “gutsy judges” has ensured “jurisprudence at stake”, according to the daily.
It added that the government will stay away from the mess for now, as “time is the best healer”. It also reported about Justice Arun Mishra, who has reportedly been assigned many important cases though he is only the tenth in seniority in the Supreme Court.