Justice Chelameswar. (Photo: PTI)

Selective Allocation Of Cases Like Jayalalithaa’s Casts Doubts On Supreme Court’s Integrity, Says Justice Chelameswar

Justice Jasti Chelameswar, the second senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, said selective allocation of cases casts doubt on the integrity of the Supreme Court. He agreed that the appeal into the disproportionate assets case against the late J Jayalalithaa, former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, was one such case.

Justice Chelameswar, in an interaction on the ‘Role of Judiciary in a Democracy’ at the Harvard Club of India in New Delhi today, spoke on a range of issues related to the judiciary from the collegium system of appointing judges to the allocation of matters by the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.

Watch the full interview here.

Here are the highlights of what he said:

On Petition Seeking Independent Probe Into Bribery Allegations

A public interest litigation had sought independent investigation into allegations of bribery against members of the judiciary. A Supreme Court bench headed by the CJI overturned an order by a bench headed by Justice Chelameswar that was hearing the matter, saying the CJI was the master of roster.

“I am still struggling with the question, what was it that required reversal of the order passed by me? We never disputed the fact that a judge cannot choose a case of his choice,” Justice Chelameswar said today. “We never listed the case for finally deciding the matter.”

I believe I was acting within my powers when I decided to list the Prasad Educational Trust case in front of the five-judge bench.
Justice Chelameswar

Undoubtedly the Chief Justice of India will have authority to decide benches but every power comes with responsibility, Justice Chelameswar added. “Don't exercise the power merely because we have it”.

On allegations of preferential allotment of cases to select benches:

“I am not saying that benches are being assigned to get preferred judgements for the government,” he said. “The question is what is the basis on which some of the sensitive cases are being allocated?”

  • I have been a judge for 20 years. I am not looking for glory by writing one more judgement. The question is are we as an institution able to sustain the faith of the people?
  • I believe allocations in this manner is undermining the faith of the public.

Asked that if the Jayalaltihaa disproportionate assets appeal was one such example, Justice Chelameswar agreed.

I won’t say cases are given to certain junior judges because they are pliable. I also do not believe in the concept of junior and senior judges. But selective allocation creates doubts about the integrity of the institution.
Justice Chelameswar

On collegium, its recommendations, and the Memorandum of Procedure for appointment of judges:

  • None of us are fighting for personal property. We have raised institutional questions. It does not mean we do not see eye to eye.
  • I was not made aware of the letter written by the government on Memorandum of Procedure in which they suggested a screening committee.
  • I agree that there is a need to audit the functioning of the collegium system.
  • We are concerned over the fact that there has been no response from the government on the collegium recommendation to elevate Justice KM Joseph to the Supreme Court.

If speaking to the press was a breach of judicial discipline?

  • I wonder where did this principle [of judicial discipline] come from? I have no qualms about going public by doing the press conference or by speaking tonight.

What if Justice Ranjan Gogoi is superseded by another judge as the Chief Justice of India:

  • I am not an astrologer. I hope it won’t happen. If it happens, and I say if, it will only prove that whatever we said in the press conference is true.

On retirement:

  • I will not take any post-retirement posting from the government.