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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
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  • 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

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What Would Be The Outcome Of The Judgement On Homosexuality With BJP At The Centre?

If parties like the BJP and "cultural" organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation.

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Ruling on gays: Is the BJP out of sync with modern realities? Flickr

More than the social impact of the Supreme Court’s judgment on homosexuality, what will be of concern to the ruling party at the Centre is its political fallout. Hence, the eloquent silence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the subject.

For the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), any expansion of the concept of civil liberties is fraught with danger to their restrictive worldviews since a widening of human rights carries the prospect of greater individualism.

If the rights of the homosexuals to live without legal constraints are conceded, it can only encourage the people to free themselves of other restrictions as well such as on choosing live-in partners (of whatever sex) and eating, dressing and speaking as they please.

Homosexuality, India
SC decriminalises homosexuality, victory for gay rights. Pixabay

It is noteworthy that the verdict on gays has come close on the heels of the judgment which described the right to dissent as a “safety valve” which the government can only shut off at its peril lest there is an explosion.

Moreover, the court had also upheld not long ago the right to privacy which the government described as an “elitist” concept.

For the Hindu Right, as also for other religious fundamentalists, this dalliance with civil rights — the freedom to criticise the government, the exaltation of privacy and now the decriminalisation of homosexuality — entails a push towards liberalism and modernism which are anathema to any group which wants the society to be bound by shackles of orthodoxy and obscurantism.

It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.

Now that one of them is gone, there is little doubt that these closet followers of Britain’s 19th century politician Lord Macaulay — even as they decry the secular groups as “Macaulay’s children” — will hold on resolutely to the law on sedition as their only safeguard against the “anti-nationals” who, they believe, stalk the land.

Homosexuality
It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.
Wikimedia Commons

It is also possible that the saffronites will keep a hawk’s eye on any social problems that may arise because of the assertion of gay rights. As the BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has said, with eager anticipation, if a five-judge bench can overturn an earlier judgment in favour of criminalising homosexuality, a larger bench can undo the present verdict if gay bars begin to flourish and there is a rise in the cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections.

Interestingly, what these judgments underline is how the judiciary is more attuned to the changing world than the elected representatives of the hoi polloi who often argue in favour of giving greater primacy to the legislature than the judiciary since they claim to represent the people while the judges are unelected denizens of an ivory tower.

However, one possible reason why MPs and MLAs, especially of the BJP, seem to be out of sync with the present-day world is the presence in their midst of a large number of criminal elements who can hardly be regarded as the most progressive sections of society.

For instance, of the 543 elected members of the Lok Sabha, of whom 186 have a criminal record, 63 belong to the BJP, followed by eight of the Shiv Sena, four of the Trinamool Congress and three each of the Congress and the AIADMK.

Homosexuality
Gay Pride Procession. Pixabay

What the Supreme Court judgment appears to have done is to persuade parties like the Congress, which usually hedges its bets lest it should fall on the wrong side of public opinion, to come out in the verdict’s favour, presumably because it senses that this judgment, more than any other, has become a touchstone in the matter of breaking out from the stranglehold of the past.

To distance a party from it, as the BJP is doing, will amount to virtually alienating the entire youth community. Even if a majority among them do not have homosexual instincts — according to official figures, there are 2.5 million gay people in India, but this may be an underestimate since, till now, it was unsafe for them to reveal their sexual orientation — the youths nevertheless see the ruling as an assertion of living life on one’s own terms and not be held hostage by the dictates of a society steeped in conservatism and of political parties which believe that their agenda can only advanced if the country is made forcibly to conform to khap panchayat-style social and cultural norms.

Also Read: Why JDU & BJP Coalition Will Remain Instant

To these youths, being or not being aware of homosexuality is of little consequence. What matters to them is to be able to make up their own minds and not be told by elders to abide by certain rules which are regarded as outdated by the younger generation.

If parties like the BJP and “cultural” organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation. (IANS)