Master of the Roster: As Chief Justice Dipak Misra Faces Motion for his Removal, Shanti Bhushan’s Petition Points to Ten Instances of “Hand-Picking Benches”

21 April 2018
The motion to remove Chief Justice Dipak Misra marks the first time in India’s judicial history that an attempt has been made to remove a sitting chief justice of the country.

Times are tough for the chief justice of India. On 20 April, 64 members of parliament from seven opposition parties submitted a petition to Venkaiah Naidu, the vice president and chairman of the Rajya Sabha, seeking the removal of Dipak Misra as the chief justice. The move marks the first time in India’s judicial history that an attempt has been made to remove a sitting chief justice of the country. Concurrently, the Supreme Court is presently hearing a petition filed by Shanti Bhushan, a senior advocate and a former union law minister, concerning serious allegations about the allocation of cases by the chief justice and the registry. The petition notes that the manner of allocation clearly reflects “a pattern of favouritism, nepotism, and forum shopping.”

Misra assumed the office of chief justice in late August last year, and within three months, the differences between sections of the bar and the bench became evident, particularly during a hearing in a case concerning corruption allegations against two benches of the Supreme Court. Both benches included Misra. In his order dismissing the case—popularly termed the medical college bribery case—Misra stated that the chief justice “alone is the master of the roster and he alone has the prerogative to constitute the Benches of the Court and allocate cases to the Benches so constituted.” Soon after, differences emerged within members of the bench as well—in January this year, four senior judges of the Supreme Court held an unprecedented press conference to register their concerns about the manner in which the court assigned cases “selectively to ‘benches of their preference’ without any rational basis.”

Shanti Bhushan’s petition is listed for hearing before a bench comprising AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, on 27 April. With the petition and the motion for Misra’s removal, the concerns over Misra’s allotment of cases have again come under the spotlight. The petition claims that while listing cases, the chief justice places “matters of general public importance and/or political sensitivity before only certain benches.” Kamini Jaiswal, an advocate in the Supreme Court, said the motion to remove Misra was “necessary.” “Things are moving from bad to worse,” she added. “I have been in the Supreme Court for over 30 years and I have never seen the Supreme Court so low.” The advocate Prashant Bhushan said, “One reason why the impeachment motion is important is because of the serious danger which emerges from the CJI being blackmailed by the government via the medical college bribery case.” He added, “The abuse of power by the CJI as the master of roster poses a serious threat to the democracy as the entire Supreme Court is being controlled by the government.”

In his petition, Shanti Bhushan seeks to allay these fears by requesting directions from the court regarding an adherence to certain rules of procedure while allocating cases. The petition argues that the “master of roster” cannot be an “unguided and unbridled discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India by hand-picking benches of select Judges or by assigning cases to particular Judges.” It further states that the authority of the chief justice as the “master of roster is not an absolute, arbitrary, singular power” and that it “must necessarily be exercised by him in consultation with the senior judges of the Supreme Court.” The petition also lists a series of cases that it alleges “reflects and establishes the gross abuse of powers.” Ten such cases from the petition, and the allegations relating to them, are listed below:

1) In the medical college bribery cases

Kaushal Shroff is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: 2G land acquisition Supreme Court Prashant Bhushan Aadhaar Impeachment Dipak Misra Chelameswar Loya Shanti Bhushan