Amid crisis, CJI and other SC judges take first step towards truce; another meeting likely today

On Tuesday, CJI Dipak Misra met in his chambers the four judges who had aired grievances against him in a press conference last week.

india Updated: Jan 17, 2018 08:29 IST
Ashok Bagriya and Bhadra Sinha
Ashok Bagriya and Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Supreme Court,SC crisis,Chief Justice of India
Supreme Court judge Jasti Chelameswar along justice Ranjan Gogoi, justice Madan Lokur and justice Kurian Joseph during a press conference in New Delhi on Friday.(PTI Photo)

A group of Supreme Court judges is brokering peace between Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra and his four senior colleagues, Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, MB Lokur and Kurian Joseph (the second, third, fourth, and fifth most senior respectively).

A resolution, and some administrative changes in the Supreme Court that addresses the grievances of the four judges, are imminent, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified.

On Tuesday, CJI Misra met in his chambers the four judges who had aired grievances against him in a press conference last week. Arjan Kumar Sikri, the sixth senior most judge in the court and two other judges were also present during the meeting.

The meeting, which started at 10.10 am lasted for around 15 minutes, before the judges took up their work for their day, added the person. The five judges will meet again on Wednesday, this person added.

Sikri, who is not seen as part of the problem by either the CJI or the four judges, is believed to be the man who prevailed on the CJI to break the deadlock.

The role of Justice Sikri and the other mediating judges is crucial because after Friday’s press conference by the four judges, both sides dug in their heels. The CJI was of the opinion that the four judges had breached judicial discipline by going public with affairs of the court.

On Friday, the four senior-most judges in the apex court after the CJI held an extraordinary press conference where they publicly criticised the Chief Justice of India over allocation of cases and constitution of benches. The judges complained publicly that “administration of Supreme Court is not in order and there have been things less than desirable that have happened in the court”.

They went on to add that the Chief Justice was abusing his position as the ‘master of the roster’, and assigning cases having far-reaching consequences for the nation and the institution selectively to benches “of his preference” without any rationale basis for such assignment.

Their criticism didn’t seem to have had any effect on the CJI, though. The Constitution Bench that begins hearings tomorrow on several important cases doesn’t have any of the four judges.

It is believed Sikri and the other judges decided to intervene after they were moved by Justice Arun Mishra breakdown during the traditional tea meeting of judges on Monday morning. Justice Mishra, who has been allocated some of the important and sensitive cases, believed he had been defamed by the grievances aired by the judges.

They decided to intervene before the rift in the court grew any wider, people familiar with the matter said.

After the Friday media conference by the four judges, there have been efforts by sitting judges and some others to mediate a solution to the crisis. Bar Council of India, the apex regulatory body for advocates in the country, set up a seven-member delegation that met the Chief Justice of India and 14 other judges of the top court on Sunday. The Supreme Court Bar Association too pitched in with efforts and its president Vikas Singh met the Chief Justice of India and other judges. None of the approaches seemed to work.

Apart from imputing the existence of so-called “bench-fixing”, the spat threatened to derail key judicial appointments that are made by the CJI and some of the senior judges.

Senior advocate Sanjay Hedge welcomed the move by the CJI to break the ice. “It was needed as every effort to regain and preserve the unity in the institution must be welcomed. We must trust the judges. They are all learned wise men and in the absence of specific facts set out through official channels, it would not be fair to comment further.”

First Published: Jan 16, 2018 22:52 IST