Arun Jaitley and Justice Chelameswar, face-to-face

The two will take part in a panel discussion on the higher judiciary, in the midst of its increasing tensions with the executive.

New Delhi: A senior government minister and one of the four dissenting judges of the Supreme Court are set to come face to face for the first time since the landmark January press conference by the four judges.

The two individuals in question are finance minister Arun Jaitley, an eminent lawyer who served as the union law minister in 2000-04, and the second most senior SC judge, Jasti Chelameswar. Both are listed as speakers in a panel discussion at a book launch in the capital on 9 April.

The book, Appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court of India: Transparency, Accountability, and Independence, is published by Oxford University Press. Paul Craig, professor of law at the University of Oxford, will be the third speaker on the panel, with the topic of discussion being ‘The Indian Higher Judiciary: Issues & Prospects’.

Why it is significant

The two will come face to face in the midst of increasing tensions between the executive and the judiciary.

While Chelameswar has raised the banner for independence of the judiciary, the Narendra Modi government is accused of stalling appointments to the higher judiciary.

ThePrint had reported that in a letter to the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, on 21 March, Chelameswar questioned why the chief justice of the Karnataka High Court, Dinesh Maheshwari, initiated an inquiry against senior district and sessions judge P. Krishna Bhat despite his elevation to the high court being cleared by the Supreme Court collegium twice.

Chelameswar had also written about the independence of the judiciary and the importance of insulating the judiciary from the executive.

“We, the judges of the Supreme Court of India are being accused of ceding our independence and our institutional integrity to the executive’s incremental encroachment. The executive is always impatient, and brooks no disobedience even of the judiciary if it can,” the letter said.

History of the rift

Along with the CJI, Chelameswar had marked the letter to 22 other judges of the Supreme Court, after facing complaints that the other judges were not taken into confidence during the unprecedented press conference on 12 January, when Chelameswar and the next three senior judges — Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurien Joseph — publicly expressed reservations with the functioning of the SC.

The four judges had expressed their “great anguish and concern” regarding Misra’s administrative style, the allocation of cases by him, and certain judicial orders passed by the apex court.

The press conference exposed the trouble that had been brewing within the top court of the land, and the growing rift between the four judges and the CJI.

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