The dispute in the Supreme Court was out in the open with four top judges going public to air their displeasure in the manner in which the Chief Justice of India allocated Benches to hear petitions.
The four judges sought to question the allocation of Benches, thus questioning a well-set precedent and convention that the CJI has always been the master of the roaster.
What is master of the roaster? To sum it up in simple terms, it means the head of the administrative side. Be it the Chief Justice of India or Chief Justice of any high court it is he or she who heads the administrative side. This includes allocation of matters before a judge as well.
The power to allocate matters before a Bench or judge is the power that the CJI or CJs have got and it cannot be overridden by a judicial order even if the CJI or CJ is sitting on a Constitution Bench.
The administrative powers are taken over by the senior most judge of a Supreme Court or High Court only if the CJI/CJ is on leave. In this case, the problem began when a Bench headed by Justice Chelameswar ordered that a case is heard by five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court.
Senior advocate, K N Phanindra tells OneIndia that this order itself was wrong. Following this order, the same was overturned by the CJI saying that only he could allocate the Bench as he was the master of the roaster.
Phanindra further states that the CJ being the master of the roaster is a well-accepted norm and convention. Justice Chelameswar ought to have placed the matter before the CJI to be allocated before a suitable Bench. He could not have said that by himself by way of a judicial order. Even in cases where there are divergent views, it is the CJ who takes the final call on who the third judge would be.
In my view this whole concept of a junior and senior judge in the Supreme Court itself is wrong. The CJI is the senior most among equals is what the norm and convention are, Phanindra also points out.