Hallmark of CJI Dipak Misra’s reign is the controversies he tangled Supreme Court in.
After a tumultuous 402 days as Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra effectively retires today. While his last day in office is 2 October, but courts will remain closed tomorrow on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. India has seen the last of Misra, the judge.
From writing long, verbose sentences in crucial portions of his judgments to making the entire nation stand up before every movie screening for the national anthem, Chief Justice Misra was sometimes difficult to understand.
Consider this verbosity: “The present appeal projects and frescoes a scenario which is not only disturbing but also has the potentiality to create a stir compelling one to ponder in a perturbed state how some unscrupulous, unprincipled and deviant litigants can ingeniously and innovatively design in a nonchalant manner to knock at the doors of the Court, as if, it is a laboratory where multifarious experiments can take place and such skilful persons can adroitly abuse the process of the Court at their own will and desire by painting a canvas of agony by assiduous assertions made in the application though the real intention is to harass the statutory authorities, without any remote remorse, with the inventive design primarily to create a mental pressure on the said officials as individuals, for they would not like to be dragged to a court of law to face in criminal cases, and further pressurise in such a fashion so that financial institution which they represent would ultimately be constrained to accept the request for ‘one- time settlement’ with the fond hope that the obstinate defaulters who had borrowed money from it would withdraw the cases instituted against them.”
Try reading this in one go and chances are you will fail miserably. But this is the opening sentence (consisting of 192 words) of a judgment delivered by Dipak Misra’s bench in Priyanka Srivastava and another vs State Of U.P. and others in 2015.
If brevity of words isn’t his strength, neither is judicial propriety.
In 2003, as a judge of Madhya Pradesh high court, he passed an order on the issue of respect for the national anthem in cinemas.
Thirteen years later, by strange coincidence, a Supreme Court bench headed by him ordered that national anthem be mandatorily played before every show at cinema halls. The petitioner was the same.
After an uproar, with many experts questioning the order, another bench, of which he was also a member, went back on Misra’s order, leaving it to the Centre to frame rules to govern the issue.
He was on the benches that sent Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon to the gallows and also upheld death penalty for the four men who fatally gang-raped a young woman in a moving bus in Delhi on 16 December 2012.
Now, if rumours in Lutyen’s Delhi can be believed, the Narendra Modi government could appoint him as the country’s first Lokpal or give him some other post-retirement sinecure. But none of these will compare in stature to the post he is demitting.
Despite the so-called “landmark” judgments delivered by benches headed by him in the last week or so, CJI Dipak Misra will not be remembered for them.
Instead, he will always be remembered as the first CJI against whom an impeachment motion was initiated. He will also be remembered for his name (along with other judges) figuring in a purported suicide note left behind by a former chief minister, Kalikho Pul of Arunachal Pradesh.
He will also be remembered as a judge whose name cropped up in the course of an inquiry by three judges of high courts into allegations against two sitting judges of the Odisha high court, something that forced the in-house panel to put the inquiry on hold.
He will also be remembered for having given too much room to the government. Dipak Misra will always remain the CJI who shrank the office of the chief justice, as one who brought down its prestige so much that it will take some serious effort on the part of his successor(s) to restore it.
He will be remembered for the controversies that were the hallmark of his tenure — the biggest one being the unprecedented event when four senior Supreme Court judges held a press conference against his decisions to assign politically sensitive cases selectively.
While the issue of the CJI’s authority as ‘master of the roster’ will fester for some more time, CJI Misra’s biggest failure was his benign readiness to accept the government’s viewpoint on judicial appointments, howsoever illogical or politically-motivated it was.
While earlier chief justices also succumbed to government pressure, the list in Misra’s case is too long. And it even shows how other members of the collegium headed by him played along in bowing to the wishes of the government.
PS: I have a theory— within days of taking over, every incumbent CJI makes the previous one looks better. Hope the next CJI Ranjan Gogoi will prove me wrong.