The Supreme Court of India on Friday witnessed high voltage drama when CJI Deepak Misra canceled an order by second most senior judge of the top court Justice J Chelameswar to set a five-judge constitution bench to start hearing the senior-judges alleged bribery case, asserting that being the "master of the roster", setting up a constitution bench was only his “discretion”.
The tussle within the top court surfaced after a two-judge bench comprising Justice J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer on Thursday constituted a five-judge bench to hear the alleged graft charges against retired Orissa High Court judge, Justice Ishrat Masroor Quddusi.
The decision of setting up a bench by a two-judge bench didn’t go down well with the Chief Justice Deepak Misra, and CJI thought the decision has usurped the power of the Chief Justice of India.
Have you ever seen a two-judge bench directing that a bench will be constituted like this? A two-judge bench cannot refer a matter like this to a constitution bench. It will be my discretion," the CJI said.
"How can power of the CJI be overridden? No bench can direct constitution of a constitution bench like this," the bench, also comprising Justices R K Agrawal, Arun Mishra, Amitava Roy and A M Khanwilkar, said.
Aspersions were also cast on Chief Justice Dipak Misra, prompting him to hurriedly constitute a five-judge bench to scrutinise the decision of the bench of Justice Chelameswar.
When advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the petitioner NGO, argued that the CJI should recuse himself from hearing the case as his name has allegedly figured in the CBI's FIR, Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha said no party can decide who should recuse or who should hear a matter.
"It cannot be presumed if he (Bhushan) says that it (FIR) is against any judge of any court. If somebody is presuming something, we cannot help it. The court cannot function in this manner," the bench observed.
"Constitution has a procedure and that procedure has to be protected. We are not here to protect any individual but the Constitution. Mr Bhushan, not like this. You must take back your statement," the bench said.
Members of the Supreme Court Bar Association including its President R S Suri, Vice-president Ajit Sinha, Secretary Gaurav Bhatia and several senior advocates including Ashok Bhan and Aman Sinha countered Bhushan's submissions and said that strong action should be taken against any attempt to "browbeat" the judges.
When Bhushan said he would clarify what he intended to say before the court, the bench shot back, "few things are happening in this court. You see, my lord (CJI) is not speaking because he is the CJI".
(With Inputs From PTI)