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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Indian supreme court judges go public with grievances

Four members hold press conference to air complaints over administration of court by the chief justice

Indian supreme court judges, from left, Kurian Joseph, Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan Lokur, address media in New Delhi on January 12, 2018. AP Photo
Indian supreme court judges, from left, Kurian Joseph, Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan Lokur, address media in New Delhi on January 12, 2018. AP Photo

Four sitting judges of India's supreme court of India on Friday said the administration of the highest court was not in order, warning that democracy would not survive in the country unless the institution was preserved.

The judges blew the lid on a growing rift with the supreme court chief justice Dipak Misra at a news conference, the first of its kind ever held by sitting judges of India's top court.

"The four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country," Justice Jasti Chelameswar said on the lawns of his residence in the Indian capital.

Speaking beside his colleagues, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph, Mr Chelameswar said they did not want to be accused of not having spoken up for the institution, or of "selling their souls".

"It is with no pleasure in our hearts that we were compelled to take this decision to call a press conference," he said. "For some time, the administration of the supreme court is not in order, many things that are less than desirable have happened in the last few months."

"It’s an extraordinary event in the history of any nation," Mr Chelameswar said. "An extraordinary event in the history of this institution."

Mr Chelameswar said that he along with the other three judges had met the chief justice over the allocation of sensitive cases, including the death of a lower court judge who was trying a criminal case involving Amit Shah, president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

"We thought we owed a responsibility to the institution, to the nation," Mr Chelameswar said. "We tried to collectively persuade the chief justice that certain things are not in order, therefore he should take remedial measures." The chief justice declined, he said.

The chief justice could not be reached for comment. The supreme court’s deputy registrar and public relations officer Rakesh Sharma said there was no response from the court for the time being.

Two close aides of prime minister Narendra Modi said he was looking into the matter and had summoned top law ministry officials for consultations.

The justices gave few details of the incidents they were referring to, but released a letter they had written to Mr Misra.

In the letter, they mentioned instances of cases with "far-reaching consequences for the nation and the institution" that were selectively assigned by the chief justice without any rational "basis for such assignment".

All supreme court judges should be involved in setting the procedures used to hire and promote judges in various courts in the country, including the high courts, they added.

Some supreme court lawyers praised the justices' action.

"Looking at its own flaws is the first step to correcting an institution, to deepening true constitutional democracy," said Karuna Nundy, a supreme court lawyer.

India's top court has 25 judges appointed by the president, including the chief justice, and each retires at the age of 65.

The four justices at Friday's news conference are the most senior after Mr Misra.

Three of them are scheduled to retire this year, while Mr Gogoi is in line to be the next chief justice, based on seniority.