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It was indeed an “extraordinary event in the history of any nation”, as Justice Jasti Chelameswar put it, when four senior judges of the Supreme Court held a press conference to address what they perceive as a crisis in the judiciary.
Justice Chelameswar was joined by Justice Rajan Gogoi, Justice Madan B Lokur, and Justice Kurian Joseph, the senior-most judges in the Supreme Court of India after the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra.The judges referred to, among other things, an undated letterthey had written earlier to the CJI.
“Many things that are less than desirable happened in the last few months,” said Chelameswar at the press conference. “Unless this institution [Supreme Court] is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country, or any country. The survival of a democracy, it is said, the hallmark of a good democracy, is an independent and impartial judge.”
Several senior lawyers and lawmakers reacted to the historic press conference saying that it was time the CJI addressed these questions, to protect the integrity of the judiciary.
Justice Chelameswar: We thank each one of you for being, for being, here on a very short notice…we thank you so much. My dear friends, all of you know this is an extraordinary event [reporter interrupts: Sir, please speak louder]. It is an extraordinary event in the history of any nation and more particularly this nation. An extraordinary event in the history of this institution of the judiciary.
It is with no pleasure in our hearts that we are compelled to take this decision to call for a press conference. But sometimes, the administration of the Supreme Court is not in order, and many things which are less than desirable which have happened in the last few months. Time and again as senior members of the court – it goes without saying that we are the senior most judges of the country also by virtue of age and our office today… seniormost judges…we thought we had a responsibility to the institution, to the nation. We tried to collectively persuade the Chief Justice that certain things were not in order therefore he should take remedial measures. Unfortunately, our efforts failed. And, my dear friends, we are all…four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, the democracy will not survive in this country, or any country. The survival of a democracy, it is said, the hallmark of a good democracy, is an independent and impartial judge. Judge is symbolic here. It is the institution. Institution. Judge… it’s a statement… but judge in the context means the judiciary.
Now, well anyway a lot of things have been published in the press… pro, co… contrary, whatever it is, we are not entering the regular [indistinct word]… this is not a political meeting where we go into all this controversy.
But since all of our efforts failed… Even this morning on a particular issue, four of us went and met the honourable Chief Justice of India with a specific request, which we could not, unfortunately, convince him that we were right and the appropriate decision is to be taken. We could not convince him. Therefore we are left with no choice except to communicate it to the nation that ‘please take care of the institution and take care of the nation’. Because we have heard a lot of wise men talking in this country earlier. I don’t want another 20 years later some very wise men in this country blame that Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph sold their souls. They didn’t take care of this institution, they didn’t take care of the interest of this nation. We don’t want it to be said. So we place it before the people of this country. That’s all gentlemen, we wanted to inform you.
Reporters: Sir, what can be done to preserve the integrity of the SC? What happened this morning sir? Can you give some instances? [More questions.]
JC: We’ll tell you something. About a couple of months back, the exact date and all we’ll give, four of us gave a signed letter to the Chief Justice of India. We’ll give copies of that letter, you can cull out from that letter what exactly…And we wanted a particular thing to be done in a particular manner. The thing was done in a particular…The thing was done, but in such a way that it left too many questions. It raised further questions and further doubts about the integrity of the institution. That’s what we believe. And many more things happened, so…And this morning also we had to go…and something like this.
(Chelameswar and Gogoi confer among themselves [indistinct].)
JC: In a few minutes…don’t overhear?? [to reporters behind JC and JG]
Reporters: No, no sir, we are not overhearing. We are very busy typing. What happened this morning, sir?
JC: We went…four of us went, met the Chief Justice of India, made a request that a particular thing is not in order, there it should be rectified. In spite of four colleagues, seniormost colleagues of the country, of the Chief Justice and seniormost judges of this country requesting…the honourable Chief Justice thought [we were not right??]
Reporter interrupts: Was this about Justice Loya’s case?
Others: What is the issue, sir? More questions… Why won’t you speak out?
JC: The reason is this, the reason is this. Everybody knows everything. And I’ll tell you something…Look here, we are not regular…we are not running politics here. And then you know somebody making a statement, somebody contradicting you…tomorrow…
Reporter: But sir, then it leaves a lot of things to speculation. And it’s better if you issue a statement… etc.
JC: All right, we’ll tell you. [Confers with Gogoi]
JC: Once you look at the letter you’ll know what exactly the complaint which we are making. We’ll just give you a copy of that letter.
Justice Gogoi [Not seen]: There is no speculation here. We are going to give you a copy of a letter which we had written two months back on the issues we have spelt out there. Go through that letter, you’ll know what the issues are. Do we have to repeat those issues again?
Reporters: But sir, today morning, is there any specific issue. Is it Justice Loya’s…?
JG: It is an issue of assignment of a case, which is an issue raised in that letter.
Reporters: Is it about Loya thing?
Reporters: May I ask you a question please… What according to you are the remedies. Do you want the Chief Justice to be impeached?
JC: Sir, we are not saying anything. Let the nation decide. We are nobodies to decide
[Questions. Cacophony. Reporters argue.]
JG: I think whatever Justice Chelameswar has told you is the whole of it. It is a discharge of a debt to the nation that has brought us here. And we think that we have discharged our debt to the nation by telling you what is what. More is there in the letter. Beyond this I don’t think there is any other issue we need to address.
JG to JC: Where is the letter?
JC: I’ll just get it in a minute…Just give us one minute, we are getting the letter. [Calls for Varma]
[Reporter asks a question. Conversations.]
Another reporter: One question…That four judges, the seniormost judges of the Supreme Court coming together organising a press conference…it is seen as four judges breaking the ranks. Do you think that from here on the administration of the Supreme Court would go on in a routine and in a harmonious manner?
Either Joseph or Lokur (not seen): Nobody is breaking ranks here. Nobody is breaking ranks. Nobody.
Reporters: What do you think is the remedy now? Are you speaking for the rest of the court as well?
JC: We are speaking for ourselves. We have not consulted….Since we four…we are the seniormost four…we discussed…since we four went in the morning, we are speaking for ourselves. We didn’t discuss it with anybody else.
Reporter: Sir, is this a kind of a no-confidence against the Chief Justice?
JC: Sir, don’t put words into my mouth.
[Letter arrives. Chatter. More questions and requests. JC and JG confer.]
JC: My dear friends, we have one copy of the letter, we need to take copies of it. Just wait for 10 minutes, we’ll give copies.
[Reporters want JC to read a few points from the letter. Chatter…]
Reporter: What will you do now? What is the next step?
JC: What is the next step? Tomorrow is Saturday, day after tomorrow is Sunday. Monday we’ll go to the court and decide cases.
Reporters: Is it about composition of the Constitution benches also? Senior judges are not included…
JC: Just read the letter. You’ll get answers to all these questions.
Reporters: Can we construe this as a sign of protest? And now what is expected of the chief?
JC: Well, that’s what… we failed to…
JG interrupts: It is not. You can construe it as a sign of our responsibility to the nation. And nothing more. I think we have answered all, and made ourselves very clear. There is nothing further to say.