By Prarthana Mitra
Opening up about his sensational claim that had sparked an internal rift in the Supreme Court in January, now retired Justice Kurian Joseph alleged on Monday that former Chief Justice Dipak Misra was working under some “external influence”, possibly referring to the centre but refusing to put a name to it.
The primary opposition led by Congress immediately demanded separate parliamentary and judicial inquiries into the matter, following Justice Joseph’s sensational interview with the Times of India.
Here’s what he said
After remitting office last week, Justice Joseph alleged that there were “starkly perceptible signs of influence with regard to allocation of cases to benches headed by select judges.” Justice Joseph said that other judges were in agreement with him, that “someone from outside was controlling the CJI”.
He also believed that Misra was appointing judges who were perceived to be politically biased to the Supreme Court and high courts.
No clarity was, however, offered on which cases or judges he referred to in the interview. The identity of the external source is also in the wind for now.
The press conference
In January, a panel of 3 other Supreme Court judges who shared Justice Joseph’s suspicions had called for an unprecedented and much-publicised press conference to highlight these concerns, within four months of Misra becoming the CJI. They deemed it necessary in order to address a few issues plaguing the apex court, especially following the case on the death of special CBI Judge B.H. Loya.
Justices B Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan B Lokur had joined him in the protest against maladministration under Justice Misra. “We tried to persuade the CJI that some things are not in order and he needs to take remedial measures. Unfortunately, our efforts failed. We all believe that the SC must maintain its equanimity. Democracy will not survive without a free judiciary,” Justice Joseph said two days after retiring from his position.
“Someone from outside was controlling the chief justice of India, that is what we felt. So we met him, asked him, wrote to him to maintain independence and majesty of the Supreme Court. When all attempts failed, we decided to hold a press conference.”
“Justice Chelameswar was the initiator of the idea of press conference. But we three agreed with him,” he said. Believing that it was their duty to inform one watchdog, the media, of the other’s failures, Justice Joseph defended Justice Chelameswar’s decision to come out, “to let there be an awareness that we have done our best.”
How Congress responded
Following the conference, which was criticised by a more conservative wing of the apex court, the Congress submitted a notice to initiate impeachment proceedings against Misra. Rajya Sabha Chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu rejected it.
After Justice Joseph revived the claims and shed new light on them this week, his observations found solidarity with the Congress once again. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, at a press conference, said that his party had always accused the ruling BJP government of interference in the highest levels of judiciary, and claimed these apprehensions have been proved by Justice Joseph’s remarks.
“No less than a Supreme Court judge who demitted office a couple of days ago… has expressly articulated the grave threat to India’s highest judicial institution,” Mr Singhvi said.
“Justice Joseph has in clear and unequivocal terms talked of the arbitrary bench selection, external influences, by implication remote controls, and political biases injected into the system by the government of India, by the ruling party,” he alleged.
The Supreme Court and the BJP government have not responded to the recent claims yet.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.