From left: Justices Kurian Joseph, Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan Lokur address the media [Reuters]
New Delhi, India – Four senior judges of India’s Supreme Court have lashed out at the workings of the country’s top court, directing blame at Chief Justice Dipak Misra.
In a press conference on Friday in New Delhi, the first of its kind, they alleged poor administration at the powerful institution and warned that democracy may not survive.
“Sometimes, the administration of the Supreme Court is not in order. There are many things less than desirable that have happened in the last few months,” said Justice Jasti Chelameswar. “The four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country.”
The four judges, including Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph, said in a letter addressed to the chief justice that certain judicial orders have “adversely affected the overall functioning of the justice delivery system”.
The letter criticised how the “roster” – the member or bench assigned to hear a particular case – was assigned “without any rational basis for such assignment”.
“Such departures have already damaged the image of this institution to some extent,” the letter said.
The chief justice is responsible for the roster.
The four judges said they would not resign and would be back to work on Monday.
“This unprecedented press conference by the four most senior judges stemmed from the manner in which the chief justice was continuing to abuse his power as master of roster,” Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan told Al Jazeera.
The chief justice was known to assign “politically sensitive cases, which would have far-reaching impact on the republic, to hand-picked judges in order to achieve a particular outcome”, Bhushan alleged.
On Friday, Justice Gogoi told journalists that the unprecedented press conference was prompted by the death of trial court Judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya.
A petition seeking an independent probe into the mysterious death of the lower court judge is before the top court.
Loya had been hearing a case against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah when he died in 2014.
Loya’s family have raised questions about the circumstances of the judge’s death, according to India’s Caravan magazine.
“If he (the chief justice) doesn’t resign, then I believe there will be an impeachment,” Bhushan said.
The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in India.
Chief Justice Misra has not yet commented.