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CJI faces revolt from four senior most SC judges

The four judges -- Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Madan B. Lokur besides Justice Chelameswar -- released a letter they wrote to Justice Misra a couple of months ago

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PILs have become very important for Indian Judiciary System. Wikimedia Commons
PILs have become very important for Indian Judiciary System. Wikimedia Commons
  • The sudden revolt against Chief Justice of India (CJI) by the four senior-most judges of Supreme Court has sent the whole judicial system into an uproar.
  • The four judges accused the CJI of corruption and breaches in a surprise Press Conference.
  • Judge Loya’s death’s controversy, supposedly, sparked this reaction out of the other judges.

Divisions in the Supreme Court burst out in the open on Friday when four senior-most judges took an unprecedented step of addressing the media to accuse Chief Justice Dipak Misra of breaching rules in assigning cases to appropriate benches, with one of them pointing to the plea regarding the mysterious death of Special CBI judge B. H. Loya.

The hurried press conference was called to reveal CJI's corruption. Pixabay
The hurried press conference was called to reveal CJI’s corruption. Pixabay

At a hurriedly called press conference at his residence, Justice J. Chelameswar and three other colleagues said the Supreme Court administration was “not in order” and their efforts to persuade Justice Misra even this morning “with a specific request” failed, forcing them to “communicate with the nation” directly.

The four judges — Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Madan B. Lokur besides Justice Chelameswar — released a letter they wrote to Justice Misra a couple of months ago, conceding that he was the master of roster but that was “not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues”.

Asked specifically if they were upset over reference of the matter seeking a probe into the suspicious death of Judge Loya, Justice Gogoi said: “Yes.”

Judge Loya's death is said to have happened due to a conspiracy. Pixabay
Judge Loya’s death is said to have happened due to a conspiracy. Pixabay

Judge Loya, who was hearing a case relating to the killing of gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh in an alleged fake shootout in which BJP chief Amit Shah was named an accused (later discharged), died of cardiac arrest in 2014. His family has raised doubts over the circumstances in which Judge Loya died and have sought an independent probe into it.

Plea’s seeking probe came up for a hearing in the Supreme Court on Friday when the top court expressed concerns over it and said it was a “serious issue”. It asked the Maharashtra government to produce all the documents related to the case before January 15.

In a seven-page letter, the four judges said they were not mentioning details of the cases only to avoid embarrassing the institution because “such departures have already damaged the images of this institution to some extent”.

The clash among the judges in the highest court also comes in the wake of a controversial order in November in which Justice Misra declared that the Chief Justice “is the master of the roster” having exclusive power to decide which case will go to which judge.

The CJI called himself 'master of roster' further enraging other judges. Pixabay
The CJI called himself ‘master of the roster’ further enraging other judges. Pixabay

The CJI had given the order a day after a two-judge bench headed by Justice Chelameswar had passed an order that a five-judge bench of senior most judges in the apex court should be set up to consider an independent probe into a corruption case in which bribes were allegedly taken in the name of settling cases pending before Supreme Court judges.

Holding that the Chief Justice was only the first among equals, the four judges contended that there were well-settled and time-honoured conventions guiding the Chief Justice in dealing with the strength of the bench required or the composition thereof.

“A necessary corollary to the above-mentioned principle is the members of any multi-numbered judicial body, including this court, would not arrogate to themselves the authority to deal with and pronounce upon matters which ought to be heard by appropriate benches, both composition-wise and strength-wise with due regard to the roster fixed,” they wrote in the letter.

They said any departure from the two rules would not only lead to “unpleasant and undesirable consequences of creating doubt in the body politic about the integrity of the institution” but would create “chaos”.

The four judges also touched upon another controversial issue, the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) on the appointment of judges over which the Supreme Court had locked horns with the government.

The four judges also touched upon other problematic issues. deliason.files.wordpress.com
The four judges also touched upon other problematic issues. deliason.files.wordpress.com

The government, the letter said, had not responded to the communication and “in view of this silence it must be taken that the MoP has been accepted by the government on the basis of the order of this court”.

Justice Chelameswar told the media that they were “convinced that unless this institution is protected and maintains its requirements, democracy will not survive in the country or any country… The hallmark of a democracy is independent and impartial judges.

“Since all our efforts failed… Even this morning, on a particular issue, we went and met the Chief Justice with a specific request. Unfortunately, we could not convince him that we were right.”

Justice Gogoi said they were “discharging the debt to the nation that has got us here”.

The government appeared to distance itself from the controversy, saying the judges should sort the issue themselves.

Minister of State for Law P. Chaudhary said: “Our judiciary is one of the known, recognised judiciaries in the world. It is an independent judiciary. At this stage, I think no agency is required to intervene or interfere. The Chief Justice and other members should sit together and resolve. There is no question of panic.”

the matter should be resolved among the judges themselves, says P. Chaudhary.

The Supreme Court split had an immediate political fallout, with CPI leader D. Raja saying after meeting Justice Chelameswar that Parliament will have to devise methods to sort out problems like this in the top judiciary.

Two judges, Justice S. A. Bobde and Justice L. Nageshwar Rao, are understood to have called on Justice Chelameswar. IANS

Next Story

The Unexpected Transfer Of Power In Congo

Felix Tshisekedi, the only one of six sons to enter politics, doesn't have his father's fire, some observers have said.

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Congo
Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the Congolese main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) who was announced as the winner of the presidential elections gestures to his supporters in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jan. 10 VOA

Felix Tshisekedi has emerged from his father’s shadow to become Congo’s next president. For decades that post eluded his father, the venerated opposition politician, Etienne, whose death in 2017 helped catapult his son into the limelight.

The passage of power from father to son is a familiar story in Congo, where President Joseph Kabila took office at age 29 after the assassination of his father, Laurent, in 2001. He stayed on two years beyond his mandate amid delayed elections that finally took place on Dec. 30.

Now Tshisekedi, 55, is taking over after a disputed vote, with his inauguration on Thursday marking troubled Congo’s first democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960 from Belgium.

Many Congolese say his surprise victory is one the largely untested opposition leader did not earn.

Congo, President, Election
Supporters of Felix Tshisekedi, Democratic Republic of Congo’s opposition politician declared winner of the presidential poll, sing and dance ahead of the Constitutional Court final decision on the presidential results, in Kinshasa, Jan. 19, 2019. VOA

Runner-Up Revolts

Runner-up Martin Fayulu on Sunday lost a court challenge to election results despite presenting leaked data from Congo’s electoral commission showing he easily won. Fayulu has declared himself the only legitimate president, but Congolese largely have not heeded his call for peaceful protests.

Fayulu and his supporters have accused Kabila of making a backroom deal with Tshisekedi when the ruling party’s candidate did poorly in the vote. Fayulu, an opposition lawmaker and businessman who is outspoken about cleaning up Congo’s sprawling corruption, has been seen by some as a bigger threat to Kabila and his allies.

Tshisekedi “was somebody who would compromise and somebody they felt they could work with because he wasn’t saying he would launch an investigation into Kabila,” said Andrew Edward Tchie, research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Congo, Election
Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the Congolese main opposition party, was announced as the winner of the presidential elections. He gestures to his supporters at the party headquarters in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

His presidency will essentially be “a continuation of the regime,” Tchie said. Even if Fayulu had been declared the winner “it would have been the same thing,” given that Kabila’s ruling coalition won a majority of the National Assembly.

Tshisekedi, who was largely quiet after the election, has not addressed the allegation of a secret deal. He told supporters after the court’s declaration of his victory that “the Congo that we are going to form will not be a Congo of division, hatred or tribalism. It will be a reconciled Congo, a strong Congo that will be focused on development, peace and security.”

Nobody thought the electoral process would be peaceful, Tshisekedi has said, and no one thought an opposition candidate would win.

After division among African leaders over the disputed vote, some have congratulated Tshisekedi and urged Congolese to move on in the interest of stability after decades of rebel-led turmoil that have left millions dead.

Until his surprise victory, Tshisekedi’s most notable political act had been briefly supporting Fayulu as the candidate of an opposition coalition last year but then breaking away within a day to pursue the presidency himself.

Congo
Supporters of Felix Tshisekedi, who was announced as the winner of the presidential elections, celebrate in the streets of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

Tshisekedi, the father of five, quietly built his career in the shadow of his father, taking over Congo’s most prominent opposition party only a year after his death.

He had been named the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party’s national secretary in 2008, and was elected a national deputy in 2011 to the city of Mbujimayi in Kasai Oriental province. He later won a National Assembly seat and in 2016 became the party’s vice secretary.

The party’s supporters are nicknamed “the fighters” for their outspoken following. When they speak of Tshisekedi or the UDPS, there is usually mention of his charismatic father.

“Etienne left us the agreement [for Kabila to leave], now Felix is going to be president,” said one supporter, Jean-Baptiste Lay.

Etienne Tshisekedi’s death came at a fragile moment for Congo. He was deeply involved in efforts to persuade Kabila to agree to step down amid sometimes deadly protests over the election delay.

The 84-year-old had formed the country’s first opposition party in 1982 against the longtime dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko and briefly served several times as prime minister.

Congo, President, Election
Congo opposition candidate Martin Fayulu greets supporters as he arrives at a rally in Kinshasha, Congo, Jan. 11, 2019. VOA

Tshisekedi went into exile in 2000 after clashes with Kabila’s father, who took power after Mobutu’s ouster. He made a triumphant return in 2003 as Joseph Kabila was early in his rule. He lost to Kabila in the 2011 presidential election amid allegations of vote-rigging and declared himself president in protest.

When he died in Belgium, Kabila’s government was so wary of the impact on people the return of his body to Congo could cause that until now they have blocked it from coming home.

Also Read: Calm Settles Over Congo After Election Result

Felix Tshisekedi, the only one of six sons to enter politics, doesn’t have his father’s fire, some observers have said. Questions remain about his abilities and qualifications. Some Belgian media have questioned the veracity of his diploma, but Congolese law says a candidate can either submit a diploma or serve a certain amount of time as a politician to qualify to run for president.

As Congo’s incoming leader inherits the troubled country, he will look to his father’s legacy. One of his first things Tshisekedi will do once sworn in, a spokesman said, is finally allow his father’s body to come home for burial. (VOA)