Public Poll: Whose side you are on Latest Development of Judges At War?
Four justices of India’s top court on Friday criticized its distribution of cases to judges and raised concerns about judicial appointments, in an unprecedented public airing of problems at one of the country’s most respected institutions.
The move points to far-reaching implications for jurists and politicians in the chaotic South Asian democracy where the Supreme Court often sets the agenda on matters of policy and orders measures taken in the public interest.
Exposing a rift with Chief Justice Dipak Misra, the court’s four next highest-ranking judges said the issues involving its administration were serious enough to prompt them to go public.
“The four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country,” Justice Jasti Chelameswar told a news conference on the lawns of his home in the Indian capital.
The justices released a letter they had written to Misra.
In it they mentioned instances of cases with “far-reaching consequences for the nation and the institution” that were selectively assigned by the chief justice without rational “basis for such assignment”.
All Supreme Court judges should be involved in setting the procedures used to hire and promote judges in all the country’s courts, they added.
The chief justice did not immediately respond to telephone calls from Reuters seeking comment.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad declined to comment.
Two close aides of Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was looking into the matter and had summoned top law ministry officials for consultations.
The judges did not give specific details of their concerns during the press conference, but said “it is an issue of assignment of a case”. When reporters asked whether it was related to the case of a lower court judge B. Loya, who died in December 2014 while hearing a high-profile trial, one of the four judges said “yes”.
At the time of his death, Loya was hearing a case that accused Amit Shah, the president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, of ordering extrajudicial killings when he served as home minister under Modi in the state of Gujarat. Shah has since been acquitted of those charges.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing a plea to investigate Loya’s death, local media said.
The BJP and Shah’s office declined to comment.
Separately, last November, the chief justice overturned an order by Chelameswar that referred a case to a bench of the five most senior judges. At the time, Misra said he was the “master of the roster”.