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Supreme Court Judges Are Now Men With Clay Feet

By Sushil Kutty


On second thoughts, it was not mutiny. It was not a conspiracy. It was not rebellion. It was airing of grievances on differences with the Chief Justice of India. Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurein Joseph sought to correct administrative weaknesses plaguing the apex court and when nothing came of their efforts, when CJI Dipak Mishra did not relent, they were constrained to go public with an unprecedented press conference.


If CPI Rajya Sabha MP D Raja was going around in circles near about Justice Chelameswar’s Tuglaq Road residence soon after the presser that was the GPS’s fault. And if an embarrassed government held back its tongue that was because it was licked. If Congress President Rahul Gandhi asked for a probe to see if the mysterious death of Judge Loya was what led to the mysterious judicial crisis that was because it was his duty.

At the unprecedented press conference on the lawns of Justice Chelameswar of Friday, the four judges charged CJI Dipak Mishra with “bench fixing”, for arbitrarily sending highly sensitive cases to “preferred benches”, thereby alluding that judgements on the highly sensitive cases too were suspect. They wrote to the CJI that democracy was in peril and that things less than undesirable were taking place in the Supreme Court. They spoke of the debt they owed to the nation and of how they did not want 20 years hence to be told that they had sold their souls.


Fine high-sounding words that placed them on a pedestal higher than that of the CJI. The CJI did not fall for the bait. Instead, Attorney General K Venugopal hoped the judges will sit down and resolve their differences even as the media went to town with headlines as if there was a ‘Bounty on the Mutiny’. On Saturday, the four judges went in four different directions and there was no resolution in sight.


Friday, the four judges wrote to the CJI, “…address this letter to you so as to highlight certain judicial orders passed by this Court which has adversely affected the overall functioning of the justice delivery system…”


To the common man that conveyed that there was a cloud over “certain judicial orders” passed by the SC. Could one of the cases be the “privacy” case? The triple-talaq case? Would the orders in these cases have been different if the CJI had chosen a different bench? Each man/woman whose case was decided by the SC now has the luxury to cast a suspicious eye on a SC ruling that went against him/her.


Nobody can blame the citizenry – who look upon the SC as the only fountain of justice that can be trusted blindfolded – for thinking such unthinkable thoughts. Simpleton citizens cannot be wiser than the four “lordships” who opened their eyes to the undesirable happenings in the highest court of the land.


The fact that the four judges chose to highlight that the CJI was only “one among equals” pointed to the degree of their resentment against administrative decisions foisted on them by the CJI who was by tradition and order ‘Master of the Roster’. The common citizen was told again and again by wise man after wise man that the CJI because he was the CJI was the top most justice officer of the whole of India’s judiciary, not just that of the Supreme Court.


To the Aam Aadmi, who looked up to the SC as the last Big Hope, Friday was a jolt – a crippling left hook to the solar plexus. The supposedly invulnerable wise men of the apex court were no less vulnerable – that the senior most among them must, by date of joining, be the wisest of the lot; and the junior most among them, by the same reckoning, must be the least wise. The pecking order in the SC is decided by the Calendar. That does not say much in terms of wisdom.


The common man by and large lives life by the telling and retelling of stories of King Solomon the Wise, whose judgements were always right, wise and beyond reproach because there were no dissenting judges in Solomon’s court. He was Chief Justice of all who survived his court and all who served his kingdom. Even Queen Sheba’s riddles failed to unsettle King Solomon: “What are they? Seven depart and nine enter, two give drink but only one partakes?”


What has the common man gleaned from the unprecedented Friday? One, the SC is a divided house. Two, the differences are centred round cases assigned to benches. Three, despite the CJI being the “master of the roster”, his authority over which docket goes to which bench has been challenged. Four, by questioning his authority a certain ulterior motive has been assigned to him. Five, the executive must be influencing his choice of benches in politically sensitive cases. Six, by alluding to bench fixing, the credentials of several other of the 20-plus SC judges have also been questioned.


There are over three crore cases pending in the various courts of India. People wait for years on end in the hope that their cases will be settled and their lives resolved, their last hope always and always the Supreme Court. Friday brought with it the abject realization that the learned judges of the Supreme Court were also men with clay feet, however exalted their status in the eyes of the toiling millions. (IPA Service)


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