Democracy in India is at stake, said four senior Supreme Court judges today as they went public with complaints against the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra. The “rebel” judges – the four most-senior at the top court after the Chief Justice – said that “things are not in order” with what they described as “the administration of the Supreme Court”. An independent judiciary is essential for a functioning democracy, they said. Asked if they believed the Chief Justice should be impeached, they said, “Let the nation decide.”
Here are the 10 latest developments in this big story:
The judges have blown the lid off a growing rift with Chief Justice Dipak Misra at their news conference, the first of its kind ever held by sitting judges of the top court. “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 J Chelameswar said on the lawns of his residence. He is the second most-senior judge of the Supreme Court.
The judges said that their concerns include cases of “far-reaching consequences” being allocated without transparency. They made available a letter written by them to the Chief Justice two months ago, alleging “selective assignment of cases to preferred judges” and that “sensitive cases were being allotted to junior judges”. The Chief Justice has not responded. Sources in the Supreme Court said: “Every Judge is equal and regarded as independent. All cases are fairly distributed to judges in the Supreme Court.”
Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurien Joseph said repeated attempts to alert the Chief Justice to their concerns – including a meeting with him this morning – had failed to make any progress which is why they decided to voice their complaints publicly.
When asked if their complaints include the case of the death of a CBI judge, BH Loya, “yes” said Justice Gogoi. He however declined to elaborate.
Judge Loya was hearing a case that accused BJP president Amit Shah of murder when he died in Nagpur in December 2014. His family has alleged that his death was unnatural and came after he was offered 100 crores as a bribe to rule in favour of the BJP leader. Medical records show Judge Loya died of a cardiac arrest. Within weeks of his death, Amit Shah was acquitted.
The Supreme Court has been asked to order an independent inquiry into Judge Loya’s death. This morning, the case was assigned to a bench that does not include the four senior judges who held today’s press conference.
The Chief Justice in December was backed by four other top judges in asserting that he is the “master of the roster” and is alone authorized to allocate cases. The four judges who met the press today said that the rules make him “only the first amongst the equals, nothing more or nothing less.”
The public confrontation today comes amid growing calls for the judiciary to show more transparency including in how judges are selected for promotion and assignment to the High Courts and the Supreme Court.
Sources in the government say that the explosive trading of charges today is being seen as “an internal matter of the judiciary” on the administration of the Supreme Court and the government sees no reason for it to intervene.
In December, the Chief Justice was accused by some lawyers of inappropriately involving himself in hearing a case that alleges judicial corruption even though he was involved in earlier hearings of a linked matter – about whether bribes were paid by a medical college to reverse its blacklisting by the government.