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Institutional Issues Need To Be Resolved For Restoring Confidence In The Judiciary

Opinion | The Supreme Court is facing an unprecedented turmoil in the wake of four senior most judges taking exception to the Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra's style of functioning. Some damage has already been done to the highest judiciary and these brother judges are trying to contain it. 

Eminent jurists believe the developments over the past one year have undermined the confidence of the people in the judiciary. 

The senior most judges after the CJI -- Justices J Chalemeswar, Rajan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph -- went public on Friday taking exception to the manner in which cases were assigned selectively disregarding conventions on allocation of judicial work. 

At the same time the well settled principle is that the CJI is the master of the roster. However, the four judges allege that Justice Misra is not following conventions which can lead to serious consequences casting doubts about the integrity of the institution. 

Being an internal matter of the judiciary, it is best settled at a meeting of all the Supreme Court judges. 

While exceptions appear to have been made, the judges seem  perturbed about the petition seeking an inquiry into the death of special CBI judge B H Loya in 2014 being posted before a particular Bench. 

As a delicate situation has arisen in this country's democracy, it is also a moment of reckoning for other institutions in the democratic system encompassing the Executive and the Legislature. 

It may be recalled that former President of the Supreme Court Bar association Dushyant Dave had expressed concern about the manner in which benches were being constituted and certain cases being assigned to particular benches, often ignoring the obvious choice of judges and benches to hear those cases. This has inevitably raised questions about the integrity of the judiciary. 

The institutions have to respond to the crisis without seeking to brush the matter under the carpet. This assumes importance as the detailed letter of the judges draws attention to the undue interference in the finalisation of the Memorandum of Procedure (MOP) pertaining to the appointment of judges. 

The Narendra Modi government appears to have been caught on the back-foot and decided not to join issues as it would amount to taking sides because the CJI's term ends in October. It observed "any statement from their side was uncalled for." 

This assumes significance as none of the four judges had spoken a word against the government. It pertains to the administrative and other issues of the judiciary. 

The opposition Congress said the issues raised by the judges are "extremely disturbing and have far reaching consequences" for safeguarding democracy and preserving the independence of the judiciary. This is the worst judicial crisis that the country has seen since independence. It might be best for the CJI to take the initiative and try to resolve the matter with all the brother judges. 

It also provides an opportunity to the BJP led NDA government and the Supreme Court to put in place a transparent process for appointing judges. The four judges warned if their efforts failed then democracy will not survive in this country. "The hallmark of a good democracy is having an independent judiciary with impartial judges," emphasised Justice Chalemeswar.   

There is no doubt that the press conference by the judges has seriously dented the institutional as well as the moral authority of the Supreme Court. It is important to resolve such critical  matters with statesmanship for restoring public confidence in the courts.

(Views are personal.)

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