Higher Judiciary: No winners but office of CJI is the loser

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supreme courtThe recent rift between the executive and the judiciary over judicial appointments is not a new development but Centre dragging its feet on the elevation of Uttarkhand Chief Justice C J Joseph to the Supreme Court has the potential to open a Pandora’s box. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s explanation about disapproval on the grounds that Justice Joseph is too junior in the all-India list of judges and that there is an imbalance in the regional representation in the Supreme Court, clearly means scrutiny from body political into the affairs of the apex court.

This comes almost immediately after the motion of impeachment of the Chief Justice of India that had been rejected by the vice-president of India. The vice-president has the powers to reject the impeachment notice and he has rightly chosen the grounds that the charges did not constitute misconduct or incapacity. Section 3 of the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968 that deals with the procedure for the investigation and proof of the misbehavior or incapacity of a Judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court states that the presiding officer may admit or refuse to admit the motion after holding consultations with such persons as he thinks fit, and considering the material before him. Also, the CJI is free to allocate cases as “master of the roster” and there being no “proven misconduct” or “incapacity”, there is no constitutional basis for the notice to be admitted. The removal motion is new low for the body politic because such a measure requires consensus and thinking. The danger of such a cavalier precedent is that political parties could make a habit of using the impeachment motion to intimidate judiciary. This would weaken the great institution. There are no winners in this but the biggest loser is the highest court of justice. In fact some of most eminent jurists have also criticised the move.

The ongoing internal tussle in the Supreme Court has also done an irreparable damage to the office of the apex court leaving common people baffled. Chinks in the higher judiciary were visible after the first-ever press conference by the top four judges of the Supreme Court in which they levelled allegations against the CJI. Not surprisingly, the polity was bound to exploit the opportunity to gain brownie points. But at what cost? When the lordships failed to arrest the slide in rectitude, the matter entered into the political domain. By far impeachment of a Judge has never happened in our country but because the controversy involves the CJI, it does not bode well for the highest office of judiciary. Impeachment is too serious to be used on grounds of disagreement. Indian judiciary has time and again shown itself resilient for self-correction and it will come out unscathed from this uncalled move too..