SC judges’ press conference: Modi government cautious; Opposition weights options – Who said what

Supreme Court judge Jasti Chelameswar (sitting, second from left) along with other judges addressing a press conference in New Delhi.

WITH FOUR most senior judges of the Supreme Court publicly questioning the functioning of the apex institution, the government struck a cautious note, with Minister of State for Law P P Chaudhury saying that the judiciary “will sort out the matter itself” and Attorney General K K Venugopal adding that their press conference “could have been avoided”. The Opposition, however, described the judges’ allegations as “disturbing” and “extremely serious”, with Congress president Rahul Gandhi saying that the points raised by them were “extremely important”. “They have mentioned that there is a threat to democracy, I think it needs to be looked into, it needs to be looked into carefully. They have also made a point about Judge Loya’s case. That is also something that needs to be investigated properly. It needs to be looked at from the highest levels of the Supreme Court. This type of thing has never happened before. It is unprecedented. And I think all the citizens who love the idea of justice, who believe in the Supreme Court, are looking at this issue,” Gandhi said.

On Friday, a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and M M Shantanagoudar asked the Maharashtra government to file the autopsy report in the death of special CBI judge B H Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. The government, meanwhile, maintained that joining the issue would be “seen as taking sides” and “dangerous” considering that Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra’s term runs till October. Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is expected to take over from Mishra, was among the senior-most judges who had said that the functioning of the Supreme Court was “not in order” during a press conference along with Justices J Chelameswar, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph. “Any statement from our side will be uncalled for,” said a Union Minister. Official sources said that the government “would like to maintain a distance”. “It is an internal matter of the judiciary,” sources said.

“Our judiciary is reputed all over the world, is independent and will sort out the matter itself,” Minister of State for Law P P Chaudhury said. Speaking to PTI, Attorney General Venugopal, who met the CJI after the judges’ press conference, said: “What has happened today could have been avoided. The judges will now have to act in statesmanship and ensure that the divisiveness is wholly neutralised and total harmony and mutual understanding will prevail in future. This is what all of us at the bar want and I am sure that the judges, including the CJI, will rise to the occasion.” Government sources, meanwhile, pointed out that there had been issues in the judiciary in the past, too and referred to the tussles between Justice Y V Chandrachud and his successor Justice P N Bhagwati in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and between Justice A M Ahmadi and Justice Kuldip Singh in the 1990s.