New Delhi: Political parties responded cautiously to the concerns raised by four Supreme Court judges about Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra’s alleged attempt to deflect cases of national importance away from senior judges while drawing up the court’s roster. Most leaders said that the issues raised by the SC judges are very serious as they undermine both constitutional and democratic values.
While among senior advocates, jurists and retired judges, the unprecedented press conference by sitting senior judges remained the talking point through the day, the ruling BJP did not come out with a statement even as its leaders told the media that it was “a serious matter”.
‘Selective assignments’ must stop
On its part, the primary opposition party, the Congress, came up with an official statement only late in the evening. However, on Friday morning, it indirectly alleged the that Union government may have been interfering in the independent functioning of the judiciary.
For the first time in history, 4 sitting SC judges publicly questioned the functioning of the Supreme Court. Is the Modi Govt interfering with India's judiciary? #DemocracyInDanger pic.twitter.com/T79EeYyMPU
— Congress (@INCIndia) January 12, 2018
However, in the evening, party president Rahul Gandhi addressed the media and said that since most people believe in the judiciary as the most important recourse to justice, the issues raised by the judges are very significant.
“I think the points that were raised by the four judges are extremely important. They have mentioned that there is a threat to democracy and I think it needs to be looked into carefully. They have also made a point about Judge Loya’s (death) case and I think that also needs to be investigated properly. It needs to be looked at carefully from the highest levels of the SC. Such a thing has never happened before… And I think all citizens who love the idea of justice, who believe in the SC are looking at the issue and I think it is important that it is addressed,” he said.
The party’s national spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “The honourable judges have specifically highlighted two issues: 1) The long silence of the government of India to the Memorandum of Procedure that was finalised by the Supreme Court and 2) the assignment of cases in the Supreme Court to what is described as “selectively to the benches of their preference without any rational basis for such assignment…The Congress party is deeply perturbed by these developments.”
“The country holds the judiciary in the highest esteem and millions of people knock on the doors of the courts seeking justice. The non-finalisation of the Memorandum of Procedure has left nearly 40% of the sanctioned posts of the judges vacant leading to delay in justice delivery,” he added. While appealing that “the full court of the SC should take up the issues raised…and find solutions that are consistent with the traditions and conventions of the judiciary” to ensure independence of the judiciary, the party made its view clear.
“In the PIL concerning the death of judge Loya, we believe that the matter must be entrusted to the seniormost judges of the SC who should ensure that under their supervision there is a thorough and impartial investigation of the case by an independent SIT. In the matter of assignment of cases, the established conventions and traditions of the Courts must be followed and the selective assignment of cases must be stopped forthwith,” he said.
The Congress party was the only one to directly address the concern raised by the judges regarding the allocation of justice Loya’s case (the judge was hearing Sohrabuddin’s fake encounter case in which BJP president Amit Shah was also one of the accused) to junior judges at the SC, indirectly hinting at the possibility of the Union government’s interference in judicial procedures.
An ‘alarming’ state of affairs
Other parties also pointed out that such a state of affairs in the top court is alarming for Indian democracy.
Manoj Kumar Jha, the national spokesperson of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, said, “The press conference by four honourable sitting judges raising concerns about undermining of the integrity and independence of the top court only signals an alarmingly unprecedented situation. The letter released by them make a very strong charge with respect to roster and allocation of certain high profile cases of national importance being allocated to ‘only few’ makes one recall what Shakespeare said, ‘There is something rotten in the state of Denmark’. If the issues raised are not urgently addressed people might forever lose faith in an institution which is meant to protect and upheld rule of law.”
In a statement that held the Modi government responsible for the mess in the top court, the chief minister of West Bengal and All India Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee tweeted, “We are deeply anguished with the developments today about the Supreme Court. What we are getting from the statement of the four senior Hon’ble Judges of Supreme Court about the affairs of the Court makes us really sad as citizens. Judiciary and Media are the pillars of democracy. Extreme interference of central government with judiciary is dangerous for democracy.
Also read: ‘Black Day for Judiciary’: Legal Fraternity Weighs in on Unprecedented Move by Four SC Judges
Calling the press conference “unprecedented”, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said in a statement, “They (judges) have raised important issues which have a vital bearing on the institution of the Supreme Court… The integrity and independence of the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, is a vital pillar of the Constitution and non-negotiable. It is to be hoped that all such issues will be resolved keeping in mind the principles of democratic functioning and transparency regarding the highest court of the land.” Sharad Yadav, the rebel Janata Dal (United) leader, called the development as a “dark day for democracy” tweeted the following:
Very serious & critical that four sitting Judges of d Supreme Court of India for d first time in d history of India came out before d media to air their grievances. Judiciary is one of d most important pillars of democracy & not only this but other pillars are also in danger.
— SHARAD YADAV (@SharadYadavMP) January 12, 2018
In d history of this nation for d first time that d sitting Judges had to come out to speak before d media about their complaints. It is a dark day for democracy that even d Judges are working under pressure & without independence.
— SHARAD YADAV (@SharadYadavMP) January 12, 2018
Interestingly, Subramanian Swamy, the BJP leader known for speaking his own mind, did not adopt a restrained attitude like his party. As soon as the press conference happened, he told ANI, “We can’t criticise them, they are men of great integrity and have sacrificed a lot of their legal career, where they could’ve made money as senior counsels. We must respect them. The prime minister must ensure that the four judges and CJI, in fact whole SC come to one opinion and proceed further.”