The tussle within top judiciary on Friday came to the fore with the Supreme Court overturning the order of a two-judge Bench to set up a larger Bench for the hearing of a graft case asserting that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) was the “master of the roster”.
The showdown was over the issue of supremacy of constituting a Bench in which the authority of CJI Dipak Misra was allegedly undermined by a Bench of J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer, which had on Thursday set up a five-judge Bench to hear a case of alleged bribery of judges in which a retired judge of Orissa High Court, Ishrat Masroor Quddusi, is an accused.
Chelameswar, the senior-most judge after the CJI, had ordered setting up of the Bench as a petition by an NGO and an advocate had claimed there were allegations against Misra.
However, the CJI on Friday set up a five-judge Bench headed by him and overturned Thursday’s order, saying the CJI had the sole prerogative of setting up a Bench.
In fast-paced events, the Bench assembled at 3 pm on Friday and commenced an urgent hearing on the question as to who can direct the setting up of a Bench of specific judges to hear a particular matter. “There cannot be a command or an order directing the CJI to constitute a Bench of specific strength,” it said.
“Needless to emphasise that no judge can take up a matter on its own unless allocated by the CJI as he is master of the court,” the Bench said and annulled Thursday’s decision.
Perturbed by Thursday’s order, the CJI said there were hundreds of matters listed in the court daily and if the orders were passed like this, then the court cannot function.
The hearing in the jampacked courtroom saw allegations flying thick and fast with Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners, asking the CJI to recuse himself from hearing the matter as his name had allegedly figured in the CBI’s FIR. The CJI retorted: “We have been giving you indulgence and you cannot deny that, despite you levelling wild allegations against me. You can afford to lose your temper but we cannot.”