‘Bar’-ing all on the bench: Of controversy & a few good men

The SC Judges' open protest is very good for the country. It was only a matter of time and it’s finally here. 

Four senior judges of the Supreme Court have openly protested against the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Mishra. Too much has been said and written in the past 24 hours over whether this achieves any purpose at all or is a harbinger of disaster to come.

I see it as a positive development for this country. We could see its positive fallout in as early as the coming week.

Judges of the Supreme Court did not hold press conferences earlier,and they may never hold another one again. Yet, there is nothing sinister about Supreme Court judges addressing the public – the very people they have sworn to serve, with God as their witness.

Justice Chelameswar is the second senior most judge of the Supreme Court today. He and the next three-senior judges in the presser are part of today's collegium that is headed by the Chief Justice, Dipak Misra. So, these four judges are well suited to talk about the need for the Chief Justice to act swiftly in the matter of judicial appointments and elevations. 

These four judges are more than justified in their public criticism and pressure on the Chief Justice to not entertain any delay in the appointment or elevation of judges to the higher judiciary. After all, judges are to discharge their powers – judicial or administrative – in the public glare and public interest; there is nothing wrong with a public discussion of how such powers are being exercised. Any public embarrassment due to a public criticism of a person exercising public power is well deserved in a democracy; there are no exceptions and there should be none. In fact, democracy evolves and progresses only through public accountability.

Also, as a society we might have strayed so much from polite public disagreement or cordial public protest that many cannot possibly conceive a situation in which the four judges went back to meet the Chief Justice last evening to discuss over tea and what steps must be taken to remedy the ills discussed in the presser yesterday. Television channels have kept up a hilarious rabble-rousing, describing the presser as an all-out mutiny or some kind of  judicial war. 

Let’s be clear. Nothing in Friday’s press meet demeans the office of the Chief Justice or that of Justice Dipak Mishra personally. One shouldn't be surprised or shocked to see all five senior judges of the Supreme Court hold another conference shortly to convey that efforts will be made to remedy the ills adverted to in the previous press appearance.

The public impression is that these four judges were plainly unhappy with the fact that the Chief Justice was assigning cases involving substantial public importance to lower ranking Judges. I, however, see it differently. The protest is less about cases being assigned to judges lower in rank and more about the fate that those cases met with — in the hands of these judges. If only the judges to whom such cases were assigned had acted differently and examined those highly meritorious grievances instead of shutting them off, I doubt if yesterday's presser would have been held at all. 

What are those cases? Several, they were and the triggering case appeared to be the case of mysterious death of Judge Loya. This case was again, rostered before the Bench of Justice Arun Mishra that was also assigned several other cases of great public importance that met a quiet burial.

What really happened to Judge Loya? This country deserves to know the truth about the death of the CBI Special judge in Mumbai, Brijgopal Harikishan Loya.

He is reported to have died of a heart attack at the age of 48 in December, 2014 – while hearing a criminal case of national significance. The judge, it turned out had no apparent history of heart disease. He was in the midst of a trial that was to charge the current BJP National President, Amit Shah in police encounter killings (Sohrabuddin murder trial). Loya is reported to have taken a hardline stance during the hearing of the case. After he died of a sudden heart attack in unclear circumstances, his body was claimed after post-mortem by a stranger person without authorisation from any family member. Judge Loya's clothes had bloodstains on it and there were a few injury marks on his body  — as observed by his family members.The Judge's sister is a doctor and his family had immediately sought a probe then. His sister has in fact, alleged that the then Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, Mohit Shah had offered Rs 100 Crores in bribe to Judge Loyato steer the case in favour of Amit Shah, but was rejected. Judge Loya's successor Judge swiftly discharged Amit Shah in what is an unsatisfactory and a flawed judgement – without anybody appealing that judgment, any further. Judge Loya was dealing with a case of appaling murder disguised as something else through abuse of police power and official machinery — in an elaborately orchestrated and executed conspiracy.

Judge Loya's death case is of overwhelming importance to our judiciary and country. If the true motivation for the presser yesterday was to prevent a quiet burial to Judge Loya's case at the Supreme Court, the presser was inevitable for any judge of the Supreme Court with a public conscience and a sense of national accountability. On that note, we must be proud of the fact that four senior judges of the Supreme Court stood up bravely and publicly to want to know the truth of the death of Judge Loya – while many serving and retired judges might have wanted to protest but felt helpless to do anything.

I said earlier that the presser will yield a better judicial future. Justice Arun Mishra's Bench did not close Judge Loya's case yesterday and has sought his post-mortem report in the coming week. We do not and we cannot know if the outcome would have been different if not for the presser yesterday. However, thanks to the presser, we now know that there will be no quiet burial to Judge Loya's death and cases of overwhelming public importance will be heard by the Chief Justice's Bench or assigned according to the preset roster and won't be sent away to any 'preferred Bench'. 

A correction of this magnitude from the Chief Justice of India with just a 20-minute presser from four judges of the Supreme Court is a splendid development for our Supreme Court. Let us thank the four judges for standing up for a judge who is no more but the truth of whose death eludes us.


Note from Kannada.Club :

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