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Meet The "Whistle-Blower" And The "Rebel" Of The Supreme Court- Justice J. Chelameswar

Apoorva Mandhani
12 Jan 2018 2:20 PM GMT

Justice J. Chelameswar, along with Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice M.B. Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph sent shockwaves through the country today with an unprecedented press conference. While he is only now being touted as the "whistle-blower" and the "rebel" Judge of the Apex Court of the country, this is not the first time that he has spoken against the decisions of the Supreme Court. However, today's press conference is perhaps his most brazen expression of opinion so far.

The "lone-dissenter"

Justice Chelameswar has made headlines several times during his six and a half year tenure. He was the only dissenting voice when the Supreme Court struck down with a 4:1 majority a constitutional amendment on how Judges are appointed. Justice Chelameswar then ruled in favor of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) and argued that the collegium system had become an "euphemism for nepotism".

He had further opined, "Proceedings of the collegium were absolutely opaque and inaccessible both to public and history, barring occasional leaks... Such a state of affairs does not either enhance the credibility of the institution or good for the people of this country."

In fact, he had even refused to attend the collegium’s meetings, as long as its deliberations were kept under wraps. In a letter to then CJI he wrote :

“It is the law of this land that no meeting can be convened without a proper notice and an agenda, be it a meeting of a panchayat board or a cooperative society or a company or other bodies, statutory or constitutional. If you (Justice Khehar) believed these collegium meetings are beyond all principles of law propounded by their court, God save this country.

“If these discussions across the coffee table are to be treated by you as meetings of collegium where important decisions in discharge of the obligations arising from the Constitution are to be taken, I feel sad for this country. But I am of the view that such a procedure falls short of the legal requirements of a meeting. I believe collegium meetings are too solemn events to be conducted so casually."

“With great respect, I must tell you that it is not so. The judgment in the second judges’ case is the law declared by this court even today. It obliges the CJI to consult his collegium, either two or four, as the case may be depending upon the purpose of the consultation. Each participant is entitled to make suggestion and objection to the proposals. It is only after an appropriate discussion any final decision could be taken — not on personal requests of members of collegium and grace of the CJI.”

In a speech delivered by him at University of Wisconsin he said:

"Profound is the problem; pragmatic should be the approach; truly democratic ought to be the solution. As a dissenting judge in the last of the judgments on judicial appointments, I shall be all too happy to see a happy ending to this tangle."

Caving in, the Supreme Court had, thereafter, adopted the circulation method for appointing Judges, accepting the suggestion put forth by Justice Chelameswar. The method requires the collegium members to record their reasons in writing for approving or rejecting a recommendation.

The decision to publish the resolutions was then taken in view of the mounting pressure on the collegium for ensuring transparency in the process of appointment and transfer of Judges.

Justice Chelameswar was a part of the Division Bench that had declared Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 as unconstitutional, deeming it “arbitrary, excessively, and disproportionately invading the right to free speech”.

He was also a part of the 'original' three-Judge Bench that had referred the batch of petitions challenging the Aadhaar cards scheme to a larger bench for an authoritative view on the question as to whether the right to privacy was a fundamental right and whether the scheme violated this right.

More recently, a Division Bench headed by Justice Chelameswar had heard Advocate Kamini Jaiswal’s petition, which sought an independent Court-monitored Special Investigation Team to investigate the alleged bribery scam involving a medical college. The Petition had demanded that the CJI should not be a part of the Bench hearing the case since the matter of the medical college was being heard by a Bench headed by the CJI.

While the Division Bench had referred the case to a five-Judge Constitution Bench, a new Bench was constituted by the CJI a day later. The CJI, therefore, dealt with the Petition on the administrative as well as the judicial side, and nullified the order passed by the Division Bench. Thereafter, a three-Judge Bench heard and dismissed the Petition, merely referring to Justice Chelameswar's Bench as “Court No. 2” — the same Court in which a portrait of the greatest dissenter, Justice H.R. Khanna hangs.

Justice Chelameswar was born in Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh on July 23, 1953. He graduated in Physics from  Loyola college, Chennai and went on to study Law in Andhra University and began practicing. Nineteen years later, he was designated as a Senior Counsel in 1995, and was appointed as the Additional Advocate General of the Andhra Government in October of the same year.

Less than two years later, he took charge as an Additional Judge of High Court of Andhra Pradesh. Later he was appointed as the Chief Justice of Gauhati and Kerala High Courts. He was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2011.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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