Why Chief Justice of India should examine Jagan Reddy's letter
Andhra CM Jaganmohan Reddy’s letter to the CJI, levelling allegations against Justice NV Ramana and some judges of the AP High Court, has opened the proverbial can of worms.
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Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s missive to the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, levelling certain allegations against the senior-most judge of the Apex court Justice NV Ramana, who is slated to be the next Chief Justice of India, and some judges of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, has opened the proverbial can of worms. This is indeed a tricky situation.
Now, will the CJI act on the letter or simply junk it in the trash is a question that is lurking in the minds of all. The Chief Minister’s opening sentence of his letter to the CJI categorically asserts that he is aware of the consequences and the constitutional provisions with regard to the institutions — the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The Bar Council of India, Bar Association of Delhi High Court, Advocates' Association of Madras High Court have condemned the Chief Minister’s action of writing to the CJI and also making it public.
The credibility of the institution of judiciary is of paramount importance. (Photo: Reuters)
Opinion on the issue — whether the writing of the letter is in itself wrongdoing or is making it public an act of contempt of the court — may differ. But, the more important question is whether the CJI should examine the matter or just dump it. Personal likes and dislikes apart, here are the five reasons for the CJI to take a serious look into the matter. Prof M Sridhar Acharyulu, former Central Information Commissioner (RTI), and former professor in NALSAR — the prestigious law school in Hyderabad — also feel that the matter must be examined. A few other senior political analysts too expressed a similar opinion, for the issue will have serious political and legal consequences.
1. The credibility of the institution of judiciary is of paramount importance. Jaganmohan Reddy and Justice Ramana or the other judges are mortals and temporary. But, the institutions are permanent.
2. The judiciary is inherently transparent in dispensing with justice. From the stage of filing the first information report (FIR) until the time of judgment, the entire judicial process happens in the public domain, in full public glare. An open hearing is the character of the adjudication process. Whether the CM’s decision to make his letter to the CJI public is acceptable or not is a different debate altogether. That doesn’t mean his complaint loses its relevance and the obligation of the Supreme Court to inquire into it is annulled. Whether Jaganmohan Reddy should have waited until the CJI took a decision is also debatable, for the CM cannot set a deadline to the CJI any which way. Also, the most important point in this regard is that Jagan Reddy made a complaint with a view to drawing the attention of the CJI. But he has not made any prayer; nor has he sought any action or relief. He simply concluded saying: “In my respectful view, the subject matter may be looked into by your esteemed goodselves to consider initiating such steps as may be considered (sic) fit and proper, to ensure that the State judiciary’s neutrality is maintained. Further material if any, corroborative of the above contents and the enclosed annexures, shall be made available by me to your esteemed institution to substantiate the above.”
3. The complaint by the Andhra Pradesh CM should not be treated as an attack on the judiciary, as he categorically named the judges in his letter to the CJI. The Constitution of India has envisaged action against judges for judicial ‘misconduct’, according to Article 124(4). The same Constitution has also guaranteed the necessary immunities to judges of Supreme Court and High Courts, protecting them from proceedings with regard to anything said or done as part of the discharge of their judicial function. Prof Sridhar Acharyulu says, “The government can initiate criminal proceedings against a sitting or former judge of a superior court under subsection (2) of Section 3 of Judges (Protection) Act, 1985 if it can produce material evidence to show that judgment was passed after taking a bribe.”
4. The Supreme Court announced a mechanism in 2015 for receiving and considering complaints against judges. Any person can complain against the judges. A three-member committee must be constituted. This committee can either reject the complaint on the grounds that it has no substance; or may feel that there is substance yet it is not serious in nature warranting any action; or may recommend to the Parliament to initiate proceedings of impeachment if the contents of the complaint are of very serious nature.
5. The Chief Minister is a Constitutional Head of a State vested with specific powers and responsibilities. He holds an important constitutional position and that in itself is the basis of the complaint. In this specific issue, Jaganmohan Reddy is facing more than a dozen cases of serious charges of corruption in the special trial courts of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in Hyderabad. However, the CJI should give importance to what was said in the complaint rather than who lodged it. The judiciary draws its powers from the Constitution and magnificence from the unflinching faith of the people of India. The judiciary has always protected and upheld democratic values and traditions in Independent India.
The Judiciary owes it to its own institutional history to keep its unblemished character supreme and its dignity sacrosanct, as it is an exemplar of democratic values. While the complaints of wrongdoings of the other democratic institutions are tried in the courts, the power to judge themselves is conferred only on the institution of judiciary. A fair, independent judiciary whose integrity is unimpeachable is the bedrock of the Indian democracy, and the CJI must save it by taking up this issue. With the spirit of everyone is equal before the law.