No Liberal Democracy Can Survive Without An Independent Judiciary : Justice Chelameswar

On Monday, the National Law University, Delhi, in collaboration with the Oxford University Press, hosted an event at the India International Centre in New Delhi to celebrate the launch of the book ‘Supreme Court of India- The Beginnings’, penned by late Professor George H Gadbois Jr of the University of Kentucky.

The book launch was graced by the presence of Supreme Court Justice J Chelameswar as the chief guest. The event also saw in attendance Justice Madan B Lokur, senior counsels Ashok Desai and Arvind Datar, advocate Prashant Bhushan and MPs Salman Khurshid and Jairam Ramesh.

Addressing the gathering, Justice Chelameswar remarked, “I am sure that all of us present here today believe that an independent and unbiased judiciary is indispensable for a democracy to survive, in the absence of which, no liberal democracy can flourish.”

Elaborating on the aspects of the book, the second senior-most judge of the apex court said, “The book has intricately analysed the working of the Supreme Court as it existed in the earliest days of its creation; the functioning of the institution over the first 20 years of its established has been traced. However, this study has to be an ongoing process. For the sustenance and betterment of the institution, it is imperative that we constantly examine its functionalities, its successes as well as the bottlenecks.”

Speaking of the all-pervasive role of the apex court, Justice Chelameswar said, “The power of superintendence of the Supreme Court, as envisaged in the text of the Constitution, was not as widespread as it has become in practice today. The Supreme Court directly exercises an extensive power of superintendence in respect of the appointment, elevation and transfer of judges. Further, even indirectly, aspects of the administration and dispensation of justice at all levels in the high courts and the subordinate judiciary are being governed by the law as contemplated by the Supreme Court.”

Continuing in the same thread, Justice Chelameswar imputed the towering level of pendency and the arrears of cases to this wide spanning jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, combined with the responsibility accorded thereto, as the final forum of redressal, to ensure absolute justice. “It is for all of us who are associated with this Court, on some level or the other, to introspect if such a situation contributes to the glory of the historical institution”.

"We need to come up with a solution. We are faced with a real problem. So the means and manner of resolving the same need to be devised,” he said.

The judge emphasised that though only a miniscule percentage of the tremendous population of India has a direct interaction with the Supreme Court, but, on account of the supervisory role assumed by the apex court and the consequent control exercised by it on the functioning of the high courts as well as the judiciary at the grassroots level, even the remaining portion of the population is impacted by its workings and its decisions, one way or the other.

However, Justice Chelameswar refused to address questions pertaining to the recent press conference held at his residence by the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court to express their displeasure at the Chief Justice of India’s manner of rostering and assignment of cases. “This is not the appropriate place or the occasion for me to comment on those issues,” he said, folding his hands to the media.

The book written by George Gadbois(Jr) edited by Vikram Raghavan and Vasujith Ram, has been introduced posthumously. Gadbois(Jr) a scholar of India’s judiciary and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Kentucky, passed away in February, 2017