Despite the unprecedented press conference held by four sitting Judges of the Supreme Court and the uproar that followed, there is no change in the composition of the Constitution Bench that is going to commence hearing from 17 January.
The Bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice A.K. Sikri, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan will be hearing eight important cases referred to it.
These include petitions relating to the constitutionality of Aadhaar, entry of women in Sabarimala and change of religious identity of Parsi woman. It will also reconsider earlier judgments which had upheld IPC sections penalizing adultery and homosexuality. You may read more about the cases here.
It may be recalled here that four sitting Judges of the Supreme Court- Justice J. Chelameswar, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice M.B. Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph- had held a press conference, asserting that the administration of the Apex Court is "not in order" and that many "things less than desirable" have been happening in the last few months. It was also revealed that they had written a letter to the CJI two months ago, airing their grievances.
One of the concerns raised in the letter pertains to assignment of matters. While acknowledging that the CJI is the master of the roster, the letter said that this is "not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues". It then stated that while there are well-settled conventions guiding the Chief Justice in the task, off late such conventions have not been strictly adhered to.
"There have been instances where case having far-reaching consequences for the Nation and the institution had been assigned by the Chief Justice of this Court selectively to the benches "of their preference" without any rationale basis for such assignment. This must be guarded against at all costs.
We are not mentioning details only to avoid embarrassing the institution but note that such departure have already damaged the image of this institution to some extent," the letter said.
Their grievances were, soon after, supported by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR), which acknowledged that while the four Judges didn't say it, the assignment of such cases to certain junior Judges was, in fact, done "for achieving a particular result, which in most cases can be seen to be in tune with the wishes of the government". Such attitude, it said, is especially dangerous when the Government is "trampling on peoples’ fundamental rights and constitutional values".
It, in fact, claimed that there are numerous such instances of "abuse of the power of the master of roster" and went on to list down such instances. The list began with the decision on the dismissal of its Petition demanding an independent probe into allegations of corruption in the higher judiciary in the medical college bribery case. It, inter alia, also mentioned such roster changes made in the Petition challenging appointment of Special Director, CBI and in another Petition seeking an independent probe into the death of special CBI Judge B.H. Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case.