Justice Chelameswar writes to CJI ruing Centre’s interference

Supreme Court judge Justice Chelameswar in a letter to CJI Dipak Mishra dated March 21 asks CJI to consider convening a full court to take up the issue of alleged executive interference in judiciary

PTI photo
PTI photo

NH Web Desk

Seniormost Supreme Court judge, Justice J Chelameswar, has shot off a letter to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Mishra asking him to consider convening a full court to take up the issue of alleged executive interference in judiciary.

Interestingly, The Print on Friday reported that Justice Chelameswar and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is also a senior lawyer, would come “face-to-face” on April 9, for the first time since Chelameswar along with three other senior judges addressed an unprecedented press conference on January 12. The four senior-most judges of the apex court had at the time raised a litany of problems afflicting the country's highest court. The Print said that Chelameswar and Jaitley would both be panelists at a discussion at the launch of a book ‘Appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court of India: Transparency, Accountability, and Independence’. The Print report says the topic of discussion will be ‘The Indian Higher Judiciary: Issues & Prospects’.

Justice Chelameswar, in his letter written on March 21, cautioned that "the bonhomie between the judiciary and the government in any State sounds the death knell to democracy".

The unprecedent letter, copies of which were also sent to 22 other apex court judges, has questioned the probe initiated by Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari against District and Sessions Judge Krishna Bhat at the instance of the Union Ministry of Law and Justice, despite Bhat’s name being recommended for elevation twice by the Collegium.

"Someone from Bangalore has already beaten us in the race to the bottom. The Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court is more than willing to do the Executive bidding, behind our back," Justice Chelameswar wrote in his six-page letter.

Raising the issue of judicial independence, he said, "We, the judges of the Supreme Court of India, are being accused of ceding our independence and our institutional integrity to the Executive's incremental encroachment.

"The executive is always impatient, and brooks no disobedience even of the judiciary if it can. Attempts were always made to treat the Chief Justices as the Departmental Heads in the Secretariat. So much for our 'independence and preeminence' as a distinct State organ".

Justice Chelameswar referred to the "unhappy experience" where the Government sat tight over the files even after the Collegium recommended names for appointment in the higher judiciary.

"For some time, our unhappy experience has been that the government's accepting our recommendations is an exception and sitting on them is the norm. 'Inconvenient' but able judges or judges to be are being bypassed through this route," he claimed.

The apex court judge, who is demitting office on June 22, took serious note of the communication between the Karnataka High Court chief justice and the executive saying, "the role of High Court ceases with its recommendation". He said that any further correspondence, clarificatory or otherwise, has to be between the executive and the Supreme Court alone.

Referring to Bhat's case, he said, "To my mind, I could recollect no instance from the past, of the executive bypassing the Supreme Court, more particularly while its recommendations are pending, to look into the allegations already falsified and conclusively rejected by us.” “Asking the High Court to re-evaluate our recommendation in this matter has to be deemed improper and contumacious."

He said the judiciary may not be "far-off" when the executive would directly communicate with the High Court about the pending cases and ask what orders are to be passed.

"Let us also not forget the bonhomie between the judiciary and the government in any State sounds the death knell to democracy. We both are mutual watchdogs, so to say, no mutual admirers, much less constitutional cohorts", he said in the letter to the CJI.

Asking the CJI to take up the issue of executive interference in judiciary by convening a full court on the judicial side, he said this was necessary in order to ensure that the institution (Supreme Court) remained relevant under the scheme of the Constitution.

He then referred to an instance from the past when the apex court had taken serious note of direct communication of the then Law Minister with the High Courts on the issue of judges' transfer which had finally led to the judgement in first judges case in 1981. Later, the Collegium had assumed power with regard to judges' appointment in higher judiciary.

In 2016, then Chief Justice of India TS Thakur had asked then High Court Chief Justice SK Mukherjee to hold an inquiry against Bhat on certain allegations levelled by a subordinate woman judicial officer. Bhat's name was later recommended after the probe had given him a clean chit.

With PTI inputs.

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