The Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan and reiterated that only the chief justice of India has the power to allocate cases to benches in the top court.
“There’s no dispute, the chief justice of India is the ‘master of roster’,” a bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan ruled today. “The Constitution is silent on the role of CJI, but it is based on sound convention and precedent. CJI is first among equals.”
The petition filed in April stems from a November ruling of a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra that CJI was the ‘master of the roster’ as far as the allocation of benches is concerned. In January, four senior-most judges after the chief justice held an unprecedented press conference against what they called selective allocation of cases to “preferred benches”.
Bhushan argued that the expression chief justice of India should mean collegium during decisions on roster allocation. The petition said that the “master of roster” cannot be an “unguided and unbridled” discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the chief justice of India by hand-picking the benches of select judges or by assigning cases to particular judges.
Attorney General KK Venugopal had, however, argued that any attempt to delegate the power of allocation of cases to other judges would lead to a “chaos”.
It’s difficult to accept the argument of the petitioner, it said. “The expression chief justice of India will include only chief justice of India and not the collegium.”
“The exercise of this power has to be left to the wisdom of the CJI who is the master of the roster,” it reiterated. The court said it considered the matter objectively and does “not question bona fide of the petitioner”. The debate generated by this petition has served its purpose, it said.