In 2016, the Supreme Court disposed of 19913 cases from January 1 to March 31, during the term of the then Chief Justice of India, Justice T.S.Thakur. If the pace of disposals of the Chief Justice of India, Justice J.S.Khehar is any indication, the data on disposals for the same period this year is likely to have some surprises.
No doubt, every Chief Justice of India aims at excelling the record set by his predecessor on the disposal front. However, for Justice Khehar, time appears to be running out, with his retirement in August this year, being a major limitation on any such achievement. But it is the rate per quarter, one should look at and compare whether the disposal strategy of a Chief Justice yielded results.
Surprises on data apart, Chief Justice Khehar’s disposal strategy is likely to come under critical scrutiny for other reasons. Take the manner the bench headed by him disposed on February 27, of a PIL seeking filling of vacancies in National Human Rights Commission.
The petitioner, Radhakanta Tripathy, who appeared in person, had succeeded in exposing the Government’s lack of interest in filling the vacancies in time. His petition, filed in 2015, had put the former Chief Justice of India, T.S.Thakur and the Central Government on a collision course, with the former demanding the ASG, Pinki Anand to submit the minutes of the meetings of the Selection Committee, to find out the reasons for the delay.
Even as Chief Justice Thakur’s bench expressed its serious dissatisfaction with the Government’s lack of seriousness in filling the vacancies of the human rights body, Chief Justice Khehar’s readiness to dispose of the case on a mere assurance from the Government, is a contrast of sorts.
On February 27, Pinky Anand told the CJI-led bench that the vacancy of Director General (Investigation) has since been filled up. Then, she informed the bench that the reason for not filling the vacancy of one member in the NHRC, is on account of the ongoing elections, and because of this, the Selection Committee comprising the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and five other members could not assemble, to make the selection.
She requested four more weeks to enable the Committee to meet, and the Bench considered it “just and appropriate” to extend the time, to fill, not one, but two current vacancies in the NHRC, preferably on or before April 30.
The bench then found “no justification whatsoever to retain the instant writ petition on the board of this Court”, and disposed it of.
The petitioner would have reasons to be surprised about what has changed except the bench’s composition between 2 December 2016 and now. The bench headed by the then Chief Justice, T.S.Thakur had recorded that the vacancy of Member, NHRC had occurred as early as on March 1, 2014, even before the present Government had assumed power. It is obvious that had the same bench heard the case on February 27, it would not have accepted the reason of the ongoing assembly elections for not holding the Selection Committee meeting.
Even if it is conceded that change in the composition of the bench may be a reason for a change in the approach of the bench to the case, the order of the Chief Justice Khehar-led bench on January 23 was clear that the bench hoped and expected that the process of appointment of the NHRC member would be completed within four weeks from that day. Was not the Government aware of the impending assembly elections in some States then? Even if the Government had its own compulsions, for the bench to accept the Government’s promise, to dispose of the case, is hardly convincing, especially when the Government made similar promises earlier, and didn’t bother to fulfil them.
Take the disposal of another PIL on March 3. The NGO, Humanity Salt Lake, had sought an investigation into the banned chit fund schemes, and its petition has been pending since 2013. The petition, heard only three times earlier, was disposed of, following market regulator, SEBI’s contention that 1538 cases of banned ponzi schemes were referred to other agencies for further probe, as they did not fall under its jurisdiction.
The disposal of the case was preceded by an unsavoury exchange of views on PIL between the CJI and the petitioner’s counsel, Prashant Bhushan, whose claim to represent the small investors who were duped, was questioned by the bench. The disposal of the petition would mean that the small investors, who were duped, would be left with no effective legal remedies.
Read the order here.