About a year ago, four Supreme Court justices held an unprecedented press conference and indicated that the third pillar of democracy is in danger. They suggested that the then sitting Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, had been manipulating the roster. If the judiciary isn’t transparent, they said, democracy wouldn’t survive. What exactly is the situation a year after that?
One of the four judges in the press conference was Ranjan Gogoi, who is currently the Chief Justice. Yet, the question of transparency in judiciary remains unrealised. On the contrary, critics are wondering if Gogoi has changed after he assumed the position of Chief Justice of India.
The latest uproar concerns the appointments of two new judges. Karnataka’s Dinesh Maheshwari and Delhi High Court Judge Sanjeev Khanna have been elevated to the Supreme Court. The president has approved it as well. But a few other judges and the Bar Council of India have expressed their displeasure, claiming that they have ignored the seniority of the judges.
Interestingly, the collegium on December 12 had finalised Rajasthan High Court’s Pradeep Nandrajog and Delhi High Court’s Rajendra Menon. What was the reason behind altering that decision within a month? Did the collegium correct a mistake or they changed their decision under pressure? After holding a historic press conference that complained of lack of transparency, shouldn’t CJI Gogoi live up to the standards he set for his predecessor? Aren’t the people of this country entitled to know the background of their newly appointed judges? If the selection process is sound, what is the reason behind concealing it? Until these questions are answered, the cloud of scepticism around Supreme Court wouldn’t wither away.
Also Read: SC Collegium: What Happened Between December and January?
The Alok Verma saga too intensified the credibility crisis faced by the apex body of India. The two top bosses of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had been at each other’s throat, and the matter reached the Supreme Court after one of them, Verma, was unceremoniously kicked out of the bureau by the Government of India. It was a decision which shocked the nation. All eyes were on the Supreme Court because the government of the day and the CBI were both involved. The Supreme Court, thankfully, reinstated Verma, but limited his powers. The decision came after an inquiry under the supervision of Justice A. K. Patnaik, which was appointed by the apex court, submitted its report in the prescribed two weeks. The inquiry handed over the report to the judges in a sealed cover.
The SC, without divulging the details of the report, handed over further decision making to a higher committee comprising of the Prime Minister, opposition leader and a Supreme Court Judge, Justice Sikri. The committee removed Verma again, claiming there are corruption charges against him. Opposition leader Mallikarjun Kharge was outvoted two to one. It was later reported that Justice Sikri, who is close to retirement, had been offered a plum position in London by Modi.
If Verma was corrupt, why did the Supreme Court reinstate him? Why didn’t Gogoi address the reports by Justice Patnaik and the Central Vigilance Commission? By passing it on to a higher committee, what did the apex court achieve, apart from playing technical football? In any case, Verma’s retirement was two weeks away. What was the urge to displace him? Prime Minister Modi clearly didn’t want him. Was it due to the rumour that Verma was keen on filing an FIR in the Rafale case?
Also See: Unanswered Questions about Alok Verma's Transfer as CBI Chief
Justice Patnaik added to the suspicion by saying there is no proof of corruption against Verma, and the higher committee rushed into the decision. Did the higher committee even examine Patnaik’s report? Why did CJI Gogoi ignore Sikri’s blatant conflict of interest? After media reports, Sikri withdrew his candidature, but the fact remains he had been in the running for the post in London when he decided to remove Verma. CJI Gogoi lost an opportunity to restore the credibility of the judiciary.
Speaking of missed opportunities, Rafale was another episode where the Supreme Court refused to get into the pricing of the jets, letting the Modi government off the hook, allowing them to go to town by saying that the courts had delivered a clean chit. Till today, the people of India don’t know who’s responsible for the obvious blunders in the Rafale judgement. Did the government lie to the Supreme Court or was it misinterpreted by the justices themselves? It is important to note that the Rafale verdict was authored by Chief Justice himself.
Also Read: Why SC Order on Rafale and Government Application to Correct It Are Highly Flawed
The Supreme Court failed to deliver justice in the Bhima Koregaon case as well, where the police are clearly concocting evidence to frame human rights activists. When the activists knocked the doors of the Supreme Court for justice, it asked them to go to the lower courts, letting police continue with its charade. In a recent case, Anand Teltumbde, noted author and activist lost the battle in the Supreme Court, which didn’t quash the fraudulent FIR against him. His recent public appeal in this regard shows how opaque the court proceedings are.
India is going through a difficult period. People’s faith in state and legislature has diminished considerably. Independent institutions are losing their autonomy and education institutes are under attack. Media has prostrated before the government. At this moment, citizens seek hope from the judiciary. Instead of reassuring them, the judiciary is acting cowardly.
I hope the Supreme Court and CJI Gogoi address these questions posed by the concerned citizens. At the least, I hope he watches his own press conference. Not just Ceaser’s wife, but Ceaser too must be above suspicion.
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