A RATHER HEATED TELEVISION DEBATE IN PUNJABI on the latest crisis in the Supreme Court has now gone viral and is making news for its bold treatment of the subject and for asking questions so hard that it has jolted even the legal fraternity to ask if the issue of judicial reforms is being addressed in reality at all.
"Sitting here in Chandigarh and talking about the Supreme Court is alright. We should. But why are we not talking about the Punjab and Haryana High Court? Why are we not talking about explosive case of the Haryana Civil Services (Judicial) exam in which there was a petition before the High Court seeking a probe into the matter by the CBI. The case was listed before a single bench. When the judge observed that he could send the matter to the CBI, immediately a full bench of three judges was entrusted with the matter. The concerned single judge was not made a part of this bench. What is the explanation? Why are we not taking names? There are things that everybody in the Bar knows, and no one talks about," Advocate Rajiv Godara who practices in the high court and is a senior functionary of Sawraj Abhiyan and is also close to senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, told Punjab Today.
When the scandal about Haryana Civil Services (Judicial) exam exploded, the single judge listening to a plea for a CBI inquiry gave indication that he may send it to the CBI. Immediately, a full bench of three judges was entrusted with the matter, and the single bench judge was not made a part of this new bench. What is the explanation?
Godara pulled no punches in the debate, DALEEL with SP SINGH, a weekly news television show on PTC News known for its hard-hitting, no-holds barred grilling and striking a fiercely independent stance. Others on the debate were a retired judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court and Rajasthan High Court, Justice (retd) J C Verma; Advocate Arjun Sheoran, a well known civil rights activist; and Harish Mehla, a Chandigarh-based Advocate who was instrumental along with Godara in convening a seminar recently on the issue in Chandigarh where Dushyant Dave, a key dramatis personae in the ongoing tussle at the apex court, was the main speaker.
It was a debate that left no one in doubt about how bold news debates can be, if a journalist and the participants decide to call a spade a bloody shovel. "If they jail me, come and see me sometimes," the anchor joked at one stage, an attempt at black humour which he often deploys in his adversarial style of debating.
"I know those who can stand in Sector 17 plaza of Chandigarh and speak against America, but they do not have the guts to speak about judges in the high court. Amreeka door hai, judge sahmane hai. So, they are scared," Godara said.
"Clearly, it is no more only about the Supreme Court. The country has seen what is happening at the level of the Supreme Court. It is great that judges like the top four at the apex court and lawyers like Prashant Bhushan and Dushyant Dave have brought out into sunlight what was happening in the hushed, dark corners. It is time to talk about accountability as well as independence," Godara said.
"I know those who can stand in Sector 17 plaza of Chandigarh and speak against America, but they do not have the guts to speak about judges in the high court. Amreeka door hai, judge sahmane hai. So, they are scared," Rajiv Godara said.
He slammed those litigants who try to find out which lawyer is close to which judge, and said it shows the rot in the system. "It may help one litigant at one time, but it harms the system," he said in the debate.
Justice Verma (retd) reiterated that no one listens to a junior judge. "I know this because I was a junior judge for five years," he said, thus adding to the senior/junior judge selection debate. Godara and Sheoran said it was not a junior/senior issue. "No one has said that except the media. You also should not," they snapped at anchor SP Singh, who, for once, had to swallow his words.
Pointing out that while the crux of the issue may seem limited to the CJI's perceived failure to allocate most senior judges available for sensitive cases, the debate asked the people if they can go to sleep easily when four top Supreme Court judges say: "We don’t want wise men saying 20 years from now that justice Chelameswar, [Ranjan] Gogoi, [Madan B] Lokur and Kurian Joseph sold their souls and didn’t do the right thing by our constitution.”
"No one has said that except the media. You also should not," they snapped at anchor SP Singh, who, for once, had to swallow his words.
Interestingly, midway through the debate, when a participant started going into details of what happened in the Supreme Court on November 8, November 9 and November 10, the anchor suddenly realised he needed to explain the background. Possibly he wasn't prepared and opted to reel out the details. Participants agreed that the details were necessary to understand the implications of the judges' presser of January 12 and the resultant explosion in politics and judiciary.
Punjab Today puts together this long story that the anchor took much time to narrate:
>The MCI had denied permission to the Prasad Trust to open medical college, and wanted to encash the Trust’s Rs 2 crore bank guarantee. Resultant cases were being heard by 3-judge bench led by CJI.
> In late August 2017 - the CJI bench told MCI - do not encash bank guarantee.
>On Sept 18, it upheld stay on encashing bank guarantee, told MCI to conduct fresh inspection to see if Trust can admit students for academic session 2018-2019. That is where the case stands now.
>On Sept 19 - next day - CBI lodged FIR against 6 persons, including a former judge of Orissa High Court, IM Quddusi, and 2 managers of the Trust for trying to influence the outcome of the case in Supreme Court.
>On Nov 8, Prashant Bhushan of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability & Reforms (CJAR) moved a petition for urgent hearing in the MCI matter. He contended that a Supreme Court-backed SIT should take over the probe from CBI, because aspersions were being cast on the bench headed by the CJI.
>The same day, (Nov 8) -- the CJI was on the Constitution bench - so Prashant Bhushan's petition came up for oral mention before J. Chelameswar -- who admitted it and posted it for hearing on Nov 10, before his own bench
(Remember, MCI case was being heard by CJI bench)
> CJI Misra moved quickly. Later that day (8 Nov) he reassigned the case to another bench (Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan) for Nov 10. (Effectively, snatched it back from J. Chelameswar’s court)
> Next day (Nov 9), another advocate, Kamini Jaiswal, filed a fresh petition in the MCI matter, making same claims as Prashant Bhushan had done. She too wanted an SIT, & said CJI should not be part of bench dealing with it.
Her lawyer, Dushyant Dave, made an oral mention for urgent hearing at 10.30 am. CJI was on the Constitution bench. So J. Chelameswar (+Justice Abdul Nazeer) agreed to hear the petition at 12:45 pm the same day.
>Same day, just as J. Chelameswar’s bench took up Jaiswal’s petition at 12:45 pm, it got a note from the CJI that said the CJI has already assigned a similar case to another bench, so do not pass any order. J. Chelameswar and J. Nazeer brushed aside CJI's advice, admitted Jaiswal’s petition (previous day, they had assigned it to a 2-member bench) and this time referred it to a Constitution bench & also dictated which five judges will comprise the bench. They posted the case to Nov 13. Convention is that the CJI decides the composition of a bench.
>Next day (Nov 10), the bench of Justices Sikri and Bhushan took up the case and refer it to a Constitution bench. Within hours, the CJI constituted a 7-member bench, led by CJI but not including J. Chelameswar. Two of the seven judges recused. The rest five took up the matter at 3 pm. This is where an ugly spectacle happened with Prashant Bhushan asking the CJI to recuse. "The FIR is directly against you," he said.
He was heckled. There were stormy scenes. Prashant Bhushan stormed out of the court, said he was not allowed to make submissions. The CJI's ruling that he is the master of the roster effectively annulled J. Chelameswar’s order of previous day (Nov 9) setting up a Constitution bench.
Midway through the debate, as a participant delved into micro details of what happened in SC on Nov 8, 9 & 10, the anchor suddenly realised he needed to explain the background, but didn't seem prepared to reel out a summary, or decided all details were crucial. The participants also pressed that the details were necessary to understand the implications.
Since the CJI said both the petitions – Prashant Bhushan's & Jaiswal's – would be taken up by a new bench to be constituted by CJI in two week’s time, it amounted to one SC bench trying to trip another, and vice versa.
When Punjab Today reached out to anchor SP Singh to seek his reaction and asked if the debate did not veer too closely to almost prohibited territory, he initially said it was "just a debate."
When pressed further, SP Singh said, "It is a weekly debate and this seemed to be a topical subject. As for the hard-hitting debate, we just try to ask the relevant questions and all credit goes to the participants and discussants who bring such heft and gravitas to the debate. It was a pleasure to see lawyers and activists, as well as a former judge of the high court, saying it like it is. An anchor's role is very limited, and to assume anything different will be not only arrogance but also ignorance."
You can watch the original debate here:
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