Justice Chelameswar refuses to hear petition on CJI role, alleges ‘tirade’
Justice Jasti Chelameswar, the second senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, on Thursday declined to hear a petition questioning the Chief Justice of India’s role as the ‘Master of the Roster, ‘ and made remarks that indicate lingering friction in the top layer of the judiciary.
The public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by former law minister and senior advocate, Shanti Bhushan, who complained that the court registry had not been listing the petition because of a request that the matter not be placed before a bench headed by the CJI since the issue directly relates to his role.
After Chelameswar declined to hear the matter, the petitioner’s lawyer and son, Prashant Bhushan, went before CJI Dipak Misra’s court and urged him to place the matter before an appropriate bench. He repeated his request that the CJI not take up the petition. The CJI agreed to look into the matter.
Shanti Bhushan, a senior lawyer and former law minister, had filed the PIL last week challenging the chief justice’s power to distribute cases among judges and set up judicial benches.Such power should be exercised by the chief justice in consultation with other senior judges, his petition said.
Declining to hear the matter, Chelameswar said: “I do not want another reversal of my order in 24 hours. I am going to retire in a few days and I cannot hear your PIL on allocation of cases.”
He was referring to an order he passed on November 9, 2017 that called for the setting up of a Constitution bench to hear a case in which some judges were accused of taking bribes from an educational trust. His order was reversed the next day by a bench led by CJI Misra.
“Two months before my retirement, I don’t want it to be said that I am doing certain things because I want to grab some office,” Chelameswar said.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court refused o spell out guidelines for the setting up of judicial benches and allocation of work at the apex court and high courts, holding that this was the exclusive prerogative of the chief justice of India, as the “first among equals.” According to SC rules, which have the sanction of the President of India, the CJI has the discretion to allocate work and form benches of the top court. This discretionary power of the CJI as the master of the roster was questioned in January by Chelameswar and three other SC judges when they held an unprecedented press conference and protested against work allocation by the CJI.
On Thursday, Chelameswar said: “For reasons too obvious, I will not deal with this case.”
“Someone is carrying out a tirade against me that I am waiting to grab some office,” Chelameswar told Bhushan.