Why Justice Chelameswar Today Refused To Hear Plea On Assigning Cases

Prashant Bhushan wanted Justice Chelameswar's bench to hear a plea for transparency in assigning cases.

New Delhi:  Justice Jasti Chelameswar, one of the four judges who had questioned the way cases are assigned in the Supreme Court, today refused to hear a related petition saying he was about to retire and didn't want "another reversal" of his order within 24 hours.

Prashant Bhushan had requested Justice Chelameswar's bench to take up his father Shanti Bhushan's petition asking that cases be allotted by a collegium or group of judges for transparency. The petition was not being accepted by the court's registry, the lawyer told the second most senior Supreme Court judge.

Mr Bhushan also said he wanted the petition to be considered by a judge other than Chief Justice Dipak Misra as he was named as a party.

"You know my difficulty, you understand my problem," replied Justice Chelameswar.

"I am going to retire in a few days. I can't hear your petition on the allocation of cases. I don't want another reversal of my order in 24 hours," said the judge, referring to an earlier case in which his order was overturned by the Chief Justice a day later.

"Someone is carrying out a tirade against me that I am waiting to grab some office. For reasons too obvious in the history of the country, I will not deal with this case. It is the problem of the county. Let the country take its own course."

After Justice Chelameswar's refusal, Prashant Bhushan raised his request before the Chief Justice, who said he would "look into it".

Former law minister Shanti Bhushan's petition challenges the Chief Justice's status as "Master of the Roster" and refers to the "extremely disturbing trend of listing matters subjectively and selectively" and "serious erosion of independence of the judiciary in deciding matters objectively and independently".

In January, Justice Chelameswar and three other judges - the top four of the country after the Chief Justice - went public with their criticism of the way sensitive cases were allocated and implied that the Chief Justice was abusing his position as "master of the roster".

The immediate trigger for their unprecedented press conference was the case involving Justice BH Loya, who died in 2012 of a cardiac arrest, at a time he was deciding on charges against BJP president Amit Shah. The case was first allotted to a junior judge.