“We are not questioning his (Chief Justice of India) authority as master of roster but it should not be exercised in an arbitrary manner but in a transparent manner,” he said.
Buttressing his point that not everything was right in the allocation of cases, Justice Chelameswar said: “You come and walk in the corridor of the Supreme Court and you will hear that the allocation of cases is not transparent.”
He was talking to Journalist Karan Thapar at an event, “Role of Judiciary in Democracy”, organised by Harvard Club of India. The conversation went on for about 90 minutes.
About the opposition chorus seeking an impeachment of the Chief Justice, Justice Chelameswar said it was “not an answer for every problem”.
“Some system is required to be set-up so that these problems don’t arise.”
Responding to a question whether he apprehended government blocking the elevation of Justice Ranjan Gogoi as the next Chief Justice of India after Justice Misra retires, he said: “I am not an astrologer. I hope it will not happen. If it happens then it will prove what we had said in the press conference (on January 12, 2018).”
Justice Chelameswar was one of the judges who held an unprecedented press conference in January, mounting a virtual revolt against the chief justice and listing a litany of problems that they said were plaguing the country’s highest court.
They warned that these problems, including allocation of cases by the Chief Justice, could damage Indian democracy.
Responding to a question that most of PILs and other matters were listed before the Chief Justice’s court, Justice Chelameswar said: “He is master of rolls. Let him do it if he wants to do everything. I will like to do minimal work in next 49 days before my retirement.”
He also said that after his retirement on June 22 he will not “seek any employment under any government” and the issues raised by him and his three other colleagues (at the January 12 press conference) were out of their “anguish” and was not an expression of their frustration.
He sought to erase the impression that difference on some issues affected their relationship with the CJI. “Differences are on issues. That does not mean that we don’t see see eye to eye. In last 10 days, matters relating to four High Courts were dealt (by the collegium).”
Defending his decision to direct the listing of the medical scam case before a bench of five senior most judges after the CJI, Justice Chelameswar noted that in the disproportionate assets case involving late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, the judgement was pronounced one year after the order was reserved.
On the appointment of judges by the collegium, he said said that at no stage there was a suggestion for its scrapping but inclusion of an element of civil society and the government. “Sometimes revisiting (of a system) is required to assess the efficient working of the system,” he said.
He said that the finalisation of the memorandum of procedure for the appointment of judges was between the collegium and the government and there could be no judicial intervention as it would create difficulties.
On the controversy on the collegium recommending the elevation of Justice P. Krishna Bhat to Karnataka High Court, Justice Chelameswar said that his name was cleared twice by the collegium and if the government still had any reservation, they could have written to the collegium but instead wrote to the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court who “unfortunately” acted on it.
He said that he had called for the full court sitting on judicial side on the issue.
On the pendency of more than 50,000 cases, he said that not all cases should come to the Supreme Court and faulted the existing system of division benches hearing the matters.