Current Affairs | Release Date 2021-03-23 14:45:29
Current Affairs | Release Date 2021-03-23 14:45:29


Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: 48th Chief Justice of India
Mains level: Judiciary

Context:

• On April 24, 2021, Justice N. V. Ramana is to assume office as the 48th Chief Justice of India (CJI).

• As Master of the Roster, Justice Ramana would have the sole prerogative to constitute benches of the Supreme Court and allocate matters to be heard by these benches. As a matter of law, he would exercise this power even in cases that concern allegations made against him.

• The importance of the integrity of the person occupying such an important constitutional position cannot be overstated.
• Yet, a month before Justice Ramana is to assume office, the public is in the dark about the veracity of serious allegations levelled against him by other constitutional authorities.

Appointment of Judges:

• The judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president.

• The chief justice is appointed by the president after consultation with such judges of the Supreme Court and high courts as he deems necessary.

• The other judges are appointed by the president after consultation with the chief justice and such other judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts as he deems necessary.

• The consultation with the chief justice is obligatory in the case of appointment of a judge other than Chief justice.

Conditions for Removal:

• Retirement on completion of 65 years.

• Resignation

• Impeachment

• Grounds for removal: proven misbehaviour, incapacity

Appointment of Chief Justice:

• From 1950 to 1973, the practice has been to appoint the seniormost judge of the Supreme Court as the chief justice of India.

• This established convention was violated in 1973 when A N Ray was appointed as the Chief Justice of India by superseding three senior judges.

• Again in 1977, M U Beg was appointed as the chief justice of India by superseding the then senior-most judge.

• This discretion of the government was curtailed by the Supreme Court in the Second Judges Case (1993), in which the Supreme Court ruled that the seniormost judge of the Supreme Court should alone be appointed to the office of the chief justice of India.

Qualifications of Judges:

• A person to be appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court should have the following qualifications:

• He should be a citizen of India.

• He should have been a judge of a High Court (or high courts in succession) for five years

• He should have been an advocate of a High Court (or High Courts in succession) for ten years

• He should be a distinguished jurist in the opinion of the president. From the above, it is clear that the Constitution has not prescribed a minimum age for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court.

The allegations:

• On October 6, 2020, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister addressed a letter to CJI S.A. Bobde alleging that Justice Ramana was interfering with the constitution of benches and assignment of matters at the Andhra Pradesh High Court in order to ensure that cases concerning the opposition party in the State were assigned to favourable benches.

• There were also specific allegations against certain judges of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, including the then Chief Justice of the High Court.

• Consent was declined on the grounds that the CJI was “seized of the matter”.

• It would, however, be improper to dismiss the accusations of a sitting Chief Minister against the future CJI as the insinuations of a disgruntled litigant.

• Given the high constitutional offices embroiled in the controversy, the allegations at a minimum deserve a thorough, expeditious and transparent inquiry.

• The Supreme Court, though, has turned institutional inscrutability into high art. On December 14, 2020, the Supreme Court collegium that included Justice Ramana recommended the transfer of Chief Justice Maheshwari from the Andhra Pradesh High Court to the Sikkim High Court.

• The collegium’s tendency to resort to transfers in order to avoid the uncomfortable exercise of inquiring into allegations of alleged judicial misconduct is so common that one would be forgiven for mistaking it for a constitutional prescription.

• There is no information as to the reasons for the transfer of Justice Maheshwari to a much smaller High Court in the wake of Mr. Reddy’s allegations.

The in-house procedure:

• This episode serves as a reminder of the inadequate, self-fashioned rules that govern inquiries into judicial misconduct.

• The ‘in-house’ procedure devised by the higher judiciary in 1997 is riddled with shortcomings, including its absolute insulation from external gaze, its lack of prescriptions as to timelines for completion of the inquiry, and the absence of any requirement to disclose the pendency or results of the inquiry (including to the complainant).

• The procedure confers wide discretionary powers on the CJI. Interestingly, it also does not contemplate a situation in which allegations may be leveled against the CJI.

• Sheltered by this in-house procedure, the Supreme Court has avoided having to officially respond to the allegations against Justice Ramana, or share information regarding the existence or status of an inquiry into them.

• Given Justice Maheshwari’s hasty transfer, and the fact that there is just a month before Justice Ramana is to assume office, the irresistible conclusion is that the court would rather not apply its judicial mind to this task.

• There is legitimate reason for concern that the allegations may receive a quiet burial.

Two possible outcomes:

• There are two possible conclusions to an inquiry into CM’s letter: that he has falsely accused several members of the higher judiciary, including the second-most senior judge of the Supreme Court, of misconduct; or that the future CJI and other High Court judges have abused their positions.

• Either outcome requires firm institutional responses. Should the allegations against Justice Ramana and other senior members of the higher judiciary be found to be credible, the in-house procedure requires that the CJI evaluate whether the misconduct warrants the removal of the judge from office or not. In the former event, the judge(s) may be asked to resign.

• Only in the event of a judge refusing to resign would steps be taken to withdraw judicial work and communicate the finding of misconduct to other constitutional functionaries (the Prime Minister and President) for appropriate action (and a possible impeachment).

• If the CJI considers that the misconduct does not warrant the removal of the judge, the CJI may “…advise [the judge] accordingly”, and the report of the committee that conducted the inquiry may be “placed on record.”

• It is unclear what “placed on record” means. But what is certain is that this report is not available to the public.

• Indian citizens, as a matter of right, ought to be informed of the outcome of such an inquiry given the institutions and authorities involved, well before Justice Ramana takes office as CJI.

• Yet, the Supreme Court – that repeatedly proclaims its commitment to preserving public trust in the judiciary – appears to be moving at a glacial pace in response to Mr. Reddy’s letter, and also deems it unnecessary for the public to be informed of the status or outcome of an inquiry.

Conclusion:

• The Bar stands implicated in the omerta over allegations of judicial misconduct, not just for its muteness in respect of the inquiry into the Chief Minister’s allegations, but its historic failure to demand transparency from the higher judiciary.

• The mantle falls upon the public to declare to constitutional authorities that citizens of democracies deserve better than a self-serving, non-transparent in-house procedure that is founded on the presumption that the CJI is above suspicion.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the development finance institution (DFI), consider the following statements:

1. The Union Cabinet has recently cleared a Bill to set up a government-owned development finance institution (DFI) with initial paid-up capital of Rs 20,000 crore.

2. The DFI will be fully government-owned initially and the promoter’s stake will be brought down to 26 per cent in the next few years.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: C



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