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Never Had Personal Issues With Any CJI, Had to Draw a Line on Transparency: Justice Chelameswar

Three years after disapproving the existing functioning of the Collegium, he still believes that the Collegium needs to be more transparent and objective.

Utkarsh Anand |

Updated:June 22, 2018, 8:24 PM IST
New Delhi: After Justice J Chelameswar entered the Supreme Court Collegium owing to his seniority, at least three Chief Justices of India had difficult times resolving issues he raised over transparency and objectivity of the system of appointing judges.

On the eve of his retirement, Justice Chelameswar however maintained that he never had personal problems with any of these three CJIs – Justices TS Thakur, JS Khehar and Dipak Misra.

Asked how he would define his relationships with the CJIs, Justice Chelameswar said he was only raising issues that required redressal.

“At a personal level, I had no problem with any one of these judges. I had no personal problem with any of them. I was raising certain institutional issues. A line is to be drawn there. That’s all”, he told CNN-News18 in an exclusive interaction.

During Justice Thakur’s tenure as the CJI, Justice Chelameswar had declined to attend the Collegium meetings, citing its opaqueness and lack on objective process. He instead preferred that recommendations of the judges should be duly recorded and be sent to him through circulation.

When Justice Khehar took over as the CJI, Justice Chelameswar, at one point of time, wrote a letter to him, complaining how collegiums were selecting judges on personal requests of participants, and how successive CJIs had “treated members of the collegium as supplicants”.

“If you (Justice Khehar) believed these collegium meetings are beyond all principles of law propounded by their court, God save this country,” he had written in his letter.

Subsequently, he also penned a dissent note against not picking up Uttarakhand chief justice KM Joseph for elevation to the Supreme Court.

In yet another communication to Justice Khehar, Justice Chelameswar had alluded to “unwarranted intimacy” between a sitting Supreme Court judge and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.

After Justice Dipak Misra became the CJI, an unprecedented press conference of the four most senior judges, led by Justice Chelameswar, took place and the CJI was criticized over allocation of cases to some select benches.

Justice Chelameswar also wrote letters to the CJI on governmental interference and how the Collegium’s recommendations to appoint judges were being frustrated by the executive.

Collegium needs more transparency:

Justice Chelameswar was the lone dissenting voice in 2015 that ruled in favour of the National Judicial Appointments Commission and disapproved the existing functioning of the Collegium.

Three years on, he still believes that the Collegium needs to be more transparent and objective. “I do believe that the procedure of the Collegium requires more transparency. I do believe it,” Justice Chelameswar said.

It was only after his refusal in 2016 to sit in the Collegium meetings, the agenda and the minutes of the deliberations begun to be duly recorded. He also ensured that even the dissent notes recorded by the members of the Collegium are forwarded to the government.

Later in October 2017, the Collegium, headed by CJI Misra and including Justice Chelameswar, passed a historic resolution to post on the Supreme Court's website its recommendations on judicial appointments, transfers and elevations.

Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) stuck:

Although he was the most senior judge after the CJI and a part of the Collegium, Justice Chelameswar said he had no clue why and where the MoP is lying at the moment.

MoP is a document that is supposed to guide all future appointments of judges in the higher judiciary and it is being revised pursuant to the Supreme Court judgment in the NJAC case so as to usher in more transparency and objectivity in appointments.

Asked what has been stalling the MoP, he responded: “I don’t know. I don’t know where it is lying today. So what comment can I make about it?”

Even as Justice Chelamswar was questioned that how he could not know despite being a member of the Collegium and somebody who has participated in drafting the MoP, the outgoing judge replied that he doesn’t know at all about the current status of the MoP.

“At least to me, there has been no communication as to the status of the MoP,” he said when asked if there has been a lack of communication from the CJI on this subject.

| Edited by: Aakarshuk Sarna
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