“Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.”
– Lord Byron
Last week two significant rulings were pronounced by the Supreme Court which have had wide ramifications. In one such verdict on Friday, the apex court has made it clear that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is “the master of the roster” and has the authority to allocate cases to different benches of the apex court. The verdict came on a plea of former law minister Shanti Bhushan challenging the existing roster practice of allocation of cases in the apex court by the CJI. The bench comprising justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan declined to entertain Bhushan’s petition calling for the CJI to consult four other top judges before assigning sensitive cases for hearing.It said that the CJI, being the first among equals among Supreme Court judges, has the exclusive duty of allocating cases. Friday’s ruling that the CJI is the sole master of roster in allotment of cases to benches should remove any doubts in view of the campaign against Chief Justice Dipak Misra’s ‘unilateralism’ in assigning some sensitive cases to the second rung of judges. The issue generated an intense debate in the wake of the January press meet by the four senior apex court judges — Justices J Chelameswar (since retd), Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph — who alleged targeting CJI Mishra that the situation in the top court was “not in order” and many “less-than-desirable” things have taken place.
The judgment also listed the qualities a CJI should possess as the Master of Roster, including balance, fortitude, moral courage and independence of mind and as the court’s spokesperson. The former law minister’s stand that the CJI has to work in consultation with the other members of the collegium for allocation of cases was not only incorrect but also preposterous. First of all Bhushan’s PIL need not have been entertained and secondly, the matter should be deemed to be settled once for all, leaving no room for contention. Now, the expectation is that the CJI would constitute the benches keeping fair play and propriety in mind.
The second judgement, as presumed, has brought the ongoing political tussle in the capital between the AAP government and Centre (through the LG), which turned on the ambiguities of Article 239AA, in which the LG is empowered to refer “any matter” to the President on which he has a difference of opinion with the council of ministers. Matters reached the brink some weeks ago when Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal sat on dharna at the LG’s office over non-cooperation by bureaucrats. The Court was called upon to interpret Article 239AA of the Constitution, which confers a special status on the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD). The Constitution devotes a special chapter to UTs, and the 69th Amendment to the Constitution, which introduced Article 239AA, places the NCTD in the most special class among them. The SC has clarified that the constitutional scheme merely requires AAP to communicate every decision to LG even as it reiterated the Centre’s powers over police, public order and land. There is no denying that the Supreme Court judgment is a stinging rebuke of the highly unconstitutional methods adopted by the Central Government to strangle the administration of NCTD. The court has done its job and now it remains to be seen whether the judgment is followed in its true spirit or not.