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Justice Chelameswar refuses to hear PIL on allocating cases to SC benches

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New Delhi: Justice J. Chelameswar, the second senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, on Thursday refused to hear a case filed by former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan questioning the authority of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) as master of the roster, saying “why should I, let this country decide its own course”.

Soon after, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for his petitioner father, mentioned the plea before a bench headed Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and it agreed to look into the issue.

Bhushan, mentioning the plea before Justice Chelameswar, requested the bench to take up the case seeking allocation of work to be done by a Collegium and argued that he had filed the plea last week but apex court registry was yet to list it.

Justice Chelameswar, refusing to interfere, said: “I would not like to deal with this matter… let this country decide its own course.”

Justice Chelameswar said “someone is running a relentless tirade against me that I am up to grab something”, adding that two months before (retirement), he doesn’t want to hear that he was waiting to grab some office.

“I don’t want another reversal of my order in 24 hours (referring to the earlier issue where he ordered setting up of bench that was reversed by the CJI’s bench),” Justice Chelameswar added.

When Bhushan told the bench that the petition was filed last week and despite several follow ups, it has not been numbered yet, Justice Chelameswar said ” (for) reasons too obvious in the history of the country I would not deal with this matter”.

In an unprecedented move, on January 12, four senior Supreme Court judges, including Justice Chelameswar, had called a press conference to express their displeasure with the CJI Dipak Mishra and with the way he was assigning cases.

During the mentioning of the case, Bhushan further said that he has written a letter to the court’s Secretary General asking that the PIL be placed before three seniormost judges after the CJI to obtain their instruction on its listing but nothing has been done.

“It’s an extraordinary circumstance; I am mentioning an extraordinary petition regarding the master of the roster. This petition should be listed…,” Bhushan maintained.

After repeated requests from Bhushan to hear the plea, Justice Chelameswar said: “Let it take its own course of action. It’s not my problem anymore. Sorry, I am not taking it up.”

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, sitting on the bench with Justice Chelameswar also asked Bhushan not to urge him to hear the case as “its not fair” for Justice Chelameswar.

On Wednesday, CJI Misra’s bench had dismissed another PIL by advocate Asok Pande seeking framing of rules for regulating the constitution of benches and allocation of cases.

The bench said it was the “prerogative” of the Chief Justice of India – a high constitutional functionary – to form the benches and allocate cases and that authority can’t be regulated on the mere apprehension of it being exercised arbitrarily.

“… such an entrustment of functions is necessary for the efficient transaction of the administrative and judicial work of the court,” bench has said, adding: “There cannot be a presumption of mistrust. The oath of office demands nothing less.”

Last week, Shanti Bhushan had moved the apex court seeking direction that the allocation of cases by the Chief Justice of India should be done in consultation with senior judges who are part of top court’s collegium.

He said that the authority of Chief Justice of India as a master of the roster is not an “absolute, arbitrary, singular power” which may be exercised in his “sole discretion” and the CJI “must” exercise his authority in consultation with other senior judges who are also part of collegium.

The underlying principle of the collegium is that the collective opinion of a collegium of senior judges is much safer than the opinion of the Chief Justice alone, the PIL said.

Bhushan has contended that the master of roster “cannot be unguided and unbridled discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the … Chief Justice of India by hand-picking benches of select judges or by assigning cases to particular judges”.

Any such power or its exercise, the PIL says “would result in a subversion of democracy and the rule of law as guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution”.

Pointing to “extremely disturbing trend” of listing matters “subjectively and selectively” only before certain benches, the PIL says that trend reflects “serious erosion of independence of the judiciary” by resorting to the method of “favoured listings”.

“As a result, justice appears to be skewed and in many cases justice may even stand denied,” it said.



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