Jurist Fali Nariman said on Monday that there has been a “complete breakdown” in confidence between Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and fellow judges, causing disputes in the Supreme Court. However, he added that the chief justice was the master of the roster and that could not be changed.
“This has never happened before in all the 67 years I have practiced as an advocate,” Nariman said in an interview with The Indian Express. “Levels of tolerance have gone down. Lawyers, judges, everybody. The spirit of collegiality which is essential in a bench as well as in a court has broken down. Since I came to Delhi in 1972, I have seen 32 chief justices, but I have never seen this before.”
Nariman also warned that if the quarrel within the Supreme Court does not subside soon, “we could be witnessing almost the end” of the period that produced 1973 Keshavananda Bharti judgement, which had ruled that the “basic structure” of the Constitution could not be tampered with by any government. He said that while seven judges voted in favour of that judgement, six opposed it. “That was the beginning and now we are seeing what is almost the end.”
The jurist added that judges Ranjan Gogoi, Jasti Chelameswar, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph – who held a press conference in January criticising the chief justice – should have spoken privately to Misra about their concerns. Otherwise, he said, “you have to wait till the chief justice retires. Fortunately, he retires at 65 years and there is no extension.”
Nariman said he realised that the judges must have been “at the end of their tether” to hold a press conference, but they had to accept that the chief justice had always been the master of the roster and fixed the benches. “You can’t impeach him for this,” the jurist added.
Nariman said the next chief justice would definitely be Ranjan Gogoi. “I don’t think the government will be so foolish as not to appoint him,” he added.