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However, he justified the decision to hold a press conference along with three other most senior judges to criticise the CJI’s functioning saying they were left with no option and that the protest was meant to help improve the system.
At a public interaction, perhaps the first of its kind by a sitting SC judge, Justice Chelameswar also said he would be surprised if Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is in line to succeed Justice Misra, does not get to helm the top court as punishment for being part of the tumultuous press conference on January 12. “I think it will not happen. But if it happens, it would prove the issues raised by us and what was said in our letter.” The judge also expressed concern over the Centre not clearing the names of Uttarakhand high court Chief Justice K M Joseph and senior advocate Indu Malhotra for elevation as Supreme Court judges.
He denied that the unprecedented press conference was triggered by the CJI’s decision not to assign the case concerning the allegedly mysterious death of judge B H Loya to a bench headed by any of the top four judges.
On a specific question on whether there was sufficient ground to impeach the CJI, Justice Chelameswar said , “I do not understand why people are obsessed about impeachment. Impeachment cannot be solution of every problem. The other day I was reading somewhere that I should be impeached. It is important to correct the system and to set up a system where doubt and suspicion do not arise. The functioning of a system should be transparent. The SC also on Friday passed order on conducting videography of selection process for government jobs to bring transparency.”
Responding to a question on why he along with Justices Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph decided to go public with their grievances against the CJI, Justice Chelameswar said: “We thought we had no choice but to go public. We had no personal interest. I have said on record and again saying that I will not seek any kind of employment form any government. We were certainly anguished.”
The judge said differences with the CJI persist on issues flagged by him and other judges in the January press conference, but they are working together as an institution. Responding to a question whether the collegium continues to be a divided house, he said, “The collegium is functioning. We made recommendation last week also for appointment of judges. How can it be done if it is not functioning. We are not fighting on some property. We have differences but it does not mean that we don’t see eye to eye. Differences continue but we are functioning as an institution.”
The most senior Supreme Court judge disapproved of the decision of a bench led by Chief Justice of India Misra to overrule his order that the medical scam case be heard by the top five judges.“I had also faced difficulty. Lot of things were said about me (after the press conference). I am still struggling on the question [of] why the order (on medical scam) was reversed.”
Justice Chelameswar refuted the suggestion that he encroached upon the prerogative the CJI enjoys as the “master of roster” by taking it upon himself to constitute the bench to hear the medical scam case. Asked whether the CJI erred by overruling him, he said: “You can decide yourself.”
The SC judge allowed himself to be engaged on the question whether the Chief Justice of India was allocating sensitive cases to a “bench of preference”.
“Walking in the corridors of the SC you could hear rumours,” he said. “As a master of roster, the CJI has the power to allocate cases to benches but the power has to be exercised for public good. A authority should not exercise the power just because it has the power. The question is on what basis sensitive matters is being allocated. I am not dying for the case or for glory to write great judgement. The institution has to sustain the faith of people. Is such allocation good for public faith? Justice should not only be done, but also seen to be done,” he said.