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CJI invites four senior colleagues for discussion; part-II to be held on today

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(G.N.S) Dt. 16

New Delhi

The Supreme Court took initial steps towards normalcy after the Chief Justice initiated talks with the four dissenting judges. In a meeting which lasted 15 minutes, the judges discusses the issues which were brought up in the extraordinary press conference on Friday. Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra on Tuesday reached out to four of his seniormost colleagues for a discussion on the issues bothering the judicial administration of the Supreme Court. The tone of the meeting has been cordial and everyone agreed that the issues were more important than the personalities. However, the matter has not been resolved yet and the judges are expected to meet on Wednesday as well.

Breaking the ice, Chief Justice Misra invited Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph to his official chamber in the Supreme Court for a discussion in the morning. The discussion will continue on January 17.

This is the first time in the past three days since the four judges held a press conference, the CJI has met them for a discussion on issues flagged by the foursome in an unprecedented press conference on January 13. At the press meet, they said they met the CJI in the morning to discuss the allocation of the Loya petitions, but the Chief Justice had not “budged”.

Earlier on Tuesday, the highly-anticipated hearing around the circumstances surrounding the death of CBI special Judge BH Loya ended in five minutes, with the apex court saying that the petitioners “must know everything”. The court did not fix any specific date but listed the matter for hearing after a week.

The Maharashtra government placed the documents related to death of Judge Loya in a sealed cover before the court. It told the court that barring certain confidential reports placed by it, the petitioners can access other documents.

The hearings were being conducted on two petitions, one filed by BR Lone, a Maharashtra-based journalist and the other by activist Tehseen Poonawala.

The Judge Loya death case was one of the reasons which prompted four senior to take their grievance about case allotment to the public on 12 January. A crisis had erupted after four senior judges — Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph — openly castigated the functioning of the top court headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.

A letter written by them to the CJI, expressing their “anguish about recent judicial orders and an erosion in the judicial independence of the Supreme Court” was circulated at the press meet.Their efforts to convince the CJI to take corrective measures failed, forcing them to go public.

The letter said the Chief Justice’s authority as ‘master of the roster’ to decide which Bench should decide which case did not make him a “superior authority”. “The Chief Justice is only the first amongst equals – nothing more or nothing less,” the letter said.

Yet, they said, “there have been instances where cases having far-reaching consequences for the nation and the institution have been assigned by the Chief Justices of this court selectively to the Benches of their preference without any rational basis for such assignment.”

The press conference follows a recent judgment of a Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Misra, which declared the authority of the CJI as the master of the roster. The Bench held that it was the “exclusive domain” of the CJI, and none other, to allocate cases to judges in the apex court. The Constitution Bench was formed after a Bench led by Justice Chelameswar had decided to hear a petition seeking a fair probe into a case of conspiracy to bribe Supreme Court judges in a private medical college case. The case was decided by a Bench led by Chief Justice Misra.

The Constitution Bench, which was formed after Justice Chelameswar’s order to hear the case, effectively overruled Justice Chelameswar’s order to have the case before him. Ultimately, the petition was dismissed by a three-judge Bench of Justices R.K. Agrawal, Arun Mishra and A.M. Khanwilkar and a cost of ₹25 lakh was imposed on the NGO.

The October 2017 letter also highlights an order passed by a Bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit that there should be no delay in finalising the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and high courts.

The letter said there was no occasion for Justices Goel and Lalit to pass such an order when the Supreme Court Collegium had already finalised the MoP and sent it to the government on March 2017 itself. It said the government has so far met the draft MoP with silence, which meant that the Centre has accepted the terms of the Collegium on the MoP.

Besides, any issue with the MoP has to be decided in the Chief Justices’ Conference and by the Full Court, and not by a Bench of two judges alone. The letter had asked the Chief Justice to rectify the situation after a “full discussion with other members of the Collegium and at a later stage, if required, with the other judges of the court”.

Attorney General Venugopal says crisis in SC seems to be unresolved yet

In early working hours of the apex court on Tuesday, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said that rhe crisis in the Supreme Court seems to be far from over, with Attorney General K.K. Venugopal on Tuesday saying the matter seemed to be unresolved and Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Vikas Singh hoping it would be settled by this weekend.

The crisis erupted on January 12 after four senior judges — Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — openly castigated the functioning of the top court headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra.

“Yes, I think it has not been settled. Let’s hope things will be fully settled within 2-3 days,” Mr. Venugopal said.

The Hindu on Monday reported quoting sources close to the four judges that the differences had not been resolved yet.

When asked about reports which said that the impasse was continuing, Mr. Venugopal said he had to agree with the view.

On whether he had a meeting or had spoken with any of the four judges or the CJI, he said, “Nothing of that sort has happened.”

However, he hoped things would be sorted out in the next couple of days.

Mr. Singh, who is also a senior advocate, said on Tuesday: “By the end of this week, the crisis is likely to be resolved.”

He said that when he handed over the resolution of the SCBA to the CJI on Sunday, he had got the impression that the crisis would be resolved. The CJI was hopeful that within a week normality would return. As of now, it appeared that everything normality was returning.

The SCBA, at its emergency meeting on Saturday, passed a resolution asking the Chief Justice to convene a full court meeting and transfer all pending public interest litigation (PIL) petitions for hearing before the five senior-most judges, who are members of the collegium.

The four top Supreme Court judges resumed work on January 15, belying the simmering tensions sparked by their accusations against the Chief Justice, while the Attorney General described the unprecedented crisis as “a storm in a tea cup.”

In the presser, the four judges flagged certain problems such as the assigning of cases in the apex court. They said there were certain issues afflicting the country’s highest court.

The CJI  on Sunday met a seven-member delegation of the Bar Council of India and Mr. Singh and assured them that the crisis would be sorted out soon and congeniality would prevail.

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