VENKATESH KESARI | 15 JANUARY, 2018
This issue needs to be resolved and clear rules must be laid for allocation of benches
NEW DELHI: “Democracy is in danger” warned the four senior serving Justices of the Supreme Court in an unprecedented press conference. India has been thrown in turmoil since with the government silent on the serious concerns expressed by the Justices. However, the Opposition has responded with a Republic Day march in the financial capital of India, to be led by senior leaders like Sharad Pawar (Nationalist Congress Party), Sitaram Yechury (CPI(M) and others.
“Samvidhan Bachao” march with include the youth leaders Alpesh Thakor, Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani who is now a legislator from Gujarat. But will also involve workers and farmers organisations, including Shetti who walked out of the BJP front recently. Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of Gandhi, will also be a participant along with other Opposition leaders including Sharad Pawar. Patel has already responded to the call with,"I will be a part of #SaveConstitution rally in #Mumbai on 26Jan #Republic day. Country faces a serious threat to democracy and is inching towards #Fascism and we will not allow that to happen.... lets stand together and save our #Democracy and #Constitution.”
Shetti has said that he will be part of this march, being one of the initiators, as it was in his mind but he was galvanised into action following the judges press conference.
Several cases are coming before the Supreme Court including that of Babri Masjid, Article 35(A) applicable to Jammu and Kashmir, Aadhar and others having lasting impact on Indian democracy. Advocates have been pressing for the Chief Justice of India’s response to the concerns raised by the senior Judges, maintaining that a decision to reconstitute the constitutional benches of the apex court in line with the observations of the judges, would be in order.
Signficantly, in an open letter to the CJI senior retired Justices have written:
Dear Chief Justice,
The four senior puisne Judges of the Supreme Court have brought to light a serious issue regarding the manner of allocation of cases, particularly sensitive cases, to various benches of the Supreme Court. They have expressed a grave concern that cases are not being allocated in a proper manner and are being allocated arbitrarily to particular designated benches, often headed by junior judges, in an arbitrary manner. This is having a very deleterious effect on the administration of justice and the rule of law.
We agree with the four Judges that though the Chief Justice of India is the master of roster and can designate benches for allocation of work, this does not mean that it can be done in an arbitrary manner such that, sensitive and important cases are sent to hand picked benches of junior judges by the Chief Justice. This issue needs to be resolved and clear rules and norms must be laid down for allocation of benches and distribution of cases, which are rational, fair and transparent. This must be done immediately to restore public confidence in the judiciary and in the Supreme Court. However till that is done, it is important that all sensitive and important cases including pending ones, be dealt with by a Constitution Bench of the 5 senior most Judges of this Court. Only such measures would assure the people that the Supreme Court is functioning in a fair and transparent manner and that the power of the Chief Justice as master of roster is not being misused to achieve a particular result in important and sensitive cases. We therefore urge you to take immediate steps in this regard.
Justice P.B. Sawant, (Retd.) former Judge, Supreme Court of India
Justice A.P. Shah, (Retd.) former Chief Justice, Delhi High Court
Justice K. Chandru, (Retd.) former Judge, Madras High Court
Justice H. Suresh, (Retd.) former Judge, Bombay High Court
The Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna has meanwhile attacked the government on the judicial issue saying that now the Modi government will insist that the senior judges who have raised relevant concerns are agents of the Congress party.In a scathing editorial Saamna said that the judiciary is facing pressure under the current government and the country was being “suffocated”. Now that the judges have spoken out, “they will be turned into Congress agents, or it will be said there is a foreign hand behind their revolt, or they will be called Naxals.”