Supreme Court crisis: Senior judges not in bench for key cases
The Supreme Court on Monday announced the composition of a five-judge Constitution bench that will begin hearing several important cases on January 17. None of the four senior judges, who on Friday aired grievances against the Chief Justice of India (CJI), is on the bench which will hear, among other cases, challenges to Aadhaar, a challenge to its own judgment criminalising homosexual relationships between consenting adults, and a petition on the ban on women between the ages of 10 and 50 entering the Sabarimala temple.
The announcement on the constitution of the bench came on a day when the Supreme Court functioned normally, and both the Attorney General of India and the head of the Bar Council of India claimed the rift had been healed.
However, people familiar with the matter said the issues raised by the judges remain unresolved, and that neither the four judges nor the Chief Justice is willing to deviate from their positions.
On Friday, the four judges — Justices J Chelameswar, Kurian Joseph, Ranjan Gogoi and MB Lokur — said they were unhappy with the allocation of important cases by CJI Dipak Misra. They suggested that important cases were being heard by junior judges.
The people familiar with the matter added that the CJI is not in favour of calling a ‘full court’ meeting to defuse the crisis because he believes he has done no wrong.
Justice Arun Mishra broke down at an informal meeting of judges over tea on Monday morning, according to the people familiar with the matter. Most Supreme Court judges attend this morning ritual that has been going on for years. Justice Mishra expressed his anguish at the collateral damage his reputation has suffered on account of the grievances raised on Friday and broke down in tears. The Chief Justice had to lead him away, the people added. Hindustan Times could not independently establish this.
Justice Arun Mishra is hearing two petitions demanding an independent probe into Judge BH Loya’s death in November 2014. Loya was dealing with a criminal case on the alleged fake killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in which BJP president Amit Shah was named. Shah was discharged in the case in December 2014. On Friday, while the four judges didn’t name Justice Mishra, they did admit during a press conference that the Loya case was one of the points they had raised with the Chief Justice.
Justice Arun Mishra said during the tea meeting that he had been defamed and that questions were now being raised on his competence, according to the people familiar with the matter.
Meanwhile, Attorney General of India KK Venugopal told reporters that “everything has been settled”. “The courts are functioning; it was a storm in a tea cup.”
Bar Council of India chairman Manan Kumar Mishra said pretty much the same thing to reporters. “It was an internal issue and as you can see the matter has been laid to rest and all court rooms in the Supreme Court are functioning normally.”
(Press Trust of India contributed to this report)