Jasti Chelameswar
Former Supreme Court Judge Jasti Chelameswar | Youtube
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The judge who has questioned the decisions of CJI Dipak Misra says there must be institutional mechanisms to deal with complaints against judges.

New Delhi: Justice Jasti Chelameswar, the second most senior judge of the Supreme Court, has said that impeachment of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra is not the solution to resolve the crisis in the judiciary.

The comments by Chelameswar, who, along with three other most senior judges has questioned the decisions of the chief justice of India, comes in the aftermath of moves by some opposition parties to consider impeachment of Misra over allegations of wrongdoing.

“We must have institutional mechanisms to deal with complaints against judges. Impeachment has just become a buzzword this season,” he said.

Speaking on the “Role of judiciary in a Democracy”, Chelameswar said that his main concern about democracy is that there are “doubts about the integrity of the judiciary”.

The judge, who is due to retire at the end of June, was in conversation with journalist Karan Thapar at an event organised by the Harvard Club of India in the national capital Saturday. This is his second public engagement after the historic press conference on 12 January with three senior brother judges.

Chelameswar mostly spoke on the judicial crisis and explained what prompted the four senior judges to go public with their grievances against CJI Misra.

In an embarrassment to the CJI, he indicated that the government’s position on the memorandum of procedure (MoP) may have not been shared by Misra with other members of the collegium.

When asked about the government’s July 2017 suggestion to include a screening committee to recommend names for appointments, the apex court judge said he was “not aware of any such communication”.

When he was asked to explain how “sensitive cases were assigned to preferred benches”, he said that the disproportionate assets case against the late Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa was one of them.

“If you see, the judgment was reserved a year ago and was delivered only after she died. Is this not a case where the allocation failed?” he said.

The judge, however, refused to explicitly answer many questions, including why the collegium had not yet reiterated its decision on appointing Justice K.M. Joseph of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Supreme Court.

When asked whether he refused to answer these questions as it would embarrass the CJI, the judge said it is “embarrassment for me as well, not just him”.

Thapar said he would interpret the judge’s “articulate silence” as confirming many doubts raised on the CJI’s conduct.

To a question why Chelameswar decided to speak out publicly, he said judges are ethically prohibited from speaking in public only about their judgments and not otherwise.

“I have been saying this on record and I will say it again when I have some 28 working days left. I will not take up any job after retirement under any government. What could possibly be my motive,” he said.

Chelameswar is due to retire on 22 June but effectively his last working day will be 18 May since the court will break for summer vacation.

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  1. This doubtless is a remarkable feat on the part of Justice Chelameswar. Dignified, proper, frank and taciturn in turn whenever it warranted, everything about the interview seems right, (barring, of course, the mike and acoustics!). But in the interstices of conversation and his eloquent silence and the occasional Mmms lay the nuggets.

    For once, he put the sagacious old legal eggheads’ accusations about the propriety of January 12, 2018 presser to rest and hopefully shushed them for all times. Good that he wasn’t judgmental in elaborating if the accusation could be deemed antediluvian, even anachronistic in times when the changes wrought have been humongous that upset the symbiotic comfort zone or a legacy of past reparative measures of layered closeness. But the discerning realized that the criticisms were shallow and status quoits and entirely bereft of the ground reality. Institutional integrity is at the heart of the matter. The googly that Thapar bowled in the death over was comfortably swept for a six over the fine leg boundary!

    The other issue that Justice Chelameswar emphasized was the need for plurality as a safeguard to uphold judicial rectitude and integrity in the eye of a citizen. Be it Judge Loya’s case or the Prasad Educational Trust case or the Jayalalithaa disproportionate assets case, among many others, the common man’s faith and perception of the judicial system has indeed been breached. It has doubtless been far from edifying. Not something that citizens ever expected given the trust they repose on the apex court.

    Another unexpected fall-out of this interaction is that Justice Chelameswar with his words (‘if Gogoi were denied the chiefship, this would be proof that what the four judges had said in their January 12 press conference was “true” ’) has virtually “ensured and sealed” the elevation of Justice Ranjan Gogoi as the next CJI. This government, for all its derring-do and egregious blunders will dare not tinker with it.

    But the one that for me takes the cake and is going to haunt all future retiring judges (as also all government functionaries in high perches) is the example he has set for himself: “…he would not seek or accept any government job after his retirement on June 22”. Never in my fallible memory of judiciary past, I recall any retiree or retired judge of the apex or any high court (like any other government official) turning down a PRS (Post-Retirement Sinecure). It’s like setting a cat among the pigeons. We often don’t realize the extent to which the PRS syndrome has breached and fouled our decision-making and polity; if truth be said, it has been the bane all around. Remove this and you are assured to get a better and fairer dispensation in all fields of public service. Let all post-retirement jobs be held during the service period. If it entails enhancing the retirement age to 70 or 75, please go do it. But sorry no PRS – no carrots need be dangled. Judges are like any other humans and aren’t Martian men to expect them to respond differently.

  2. Justice Chelameswar is right. Impeachment would be an ill advised move. It would wedge the political firmament deep into the judiciary, something that would further weaken institutional autonomy. The fact that the learned CJI is unable to carry his four seniormost colleagues – the rest of the collegium, in a sense – is something all actors need to step back from. Whether media or higher judiciary, efforts by the executive to intrude are seldom benign or well intentioned.

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