SC judges’ ‘rebellion’: Why CJI, Master of the Roster, must also be accountable

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New Delhi, Jan 13: On Friday, when four senior judges of the Supreme Court decided to address the press to openly talk about the "malaise" within the judiciary, it was a direct attack on Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra and his work ethics.

During the well-televised press briefing of the top justices of the apex court, excluding the CJI--justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B lokur and Kurian Joseph--also made a letter public which they had addressed to CJI Misra.

dipak misra

After the four judges spoke at length, indicating the problems within the SC, especially in the manner the administrative duties have been discharged, the question of accountability of the CJI has been raised by many.

While many former judges and senior SC advocates have expressed displeasure as the four judges decided to wash the "dirty linen" of the judiciary in full public view, others say that it's the right time to clean up judiciary and functioning of the courts.

There were reports that CJI Misra too would hold a press meeting to give his side of the story. However, it was cancelled later.

Senior SC advocate and Congress leader Kapil Sibal in his column for The Indian Express stated that "the CJI is the Master of the Roster. He must also be accountable."

"Now, we are told that the CJI is the sole authority in posting matters. He is, they say, Master of the Roster...The power of the CJI to assign matters with appropriate circumspection is critical to the justice delivery system.

"...Many highly-sensitive issues reach the Supreme Court. Being the final arbiter, its decisions have an element of permanence, until they are set aside by a larger bench. That is rare," added Sibal.

Deliberating on the immense power and authority bestowed upon the CJI, Sibal stressed that settled norms should guide the CJI.

"This untrammelled power is not subject to any scrutiny and is exercised in his chamber. This is worrisome. Settled norms should guide the CJI, leaving no room for suspicion. When assignments are transparent, there is no cause for concern. Courts which seek transparency from others must demonstrate it themselves."

"Just as all masters, including those that guide the nation's destiny, are made accountable, so must the Master of the Roster," added Sibal.

In their letter also, the four SC judges wrote that "the CJI is only the first amongst the equals--nothing more or nothing less".

In a way, while the CJI is the most powerful man in the realm of the judiciary as he has the discretion to take the final call on all important matters, that does not make him immune from any scrutiny if ever doubts prevail.

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