By K Raveendran


The move by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi to deploy officers from CBI and Delhi Police to guard against abuse of Registry administration of the court amounts to an official confirmation of the rot that has set in at the hallowed precincts of the highest court of the land, just like any other institution of governance.


The police officers are being appointed on deputation to keep a tab on suspect listing of cases and other activities of employees and lawyers. Manipulation of Registry records came to full public gaze when it was discovered that two court officials had changed the content of an order by the court requiring Reliance Communications chairman Anil Ambani to personally appear in a contempt of court case. The order as uploaded on the Supreme Court website said that Ambani’s presence in the case had been dispensed with, instead of stating that it had ‘not’ been dispensed with. The CJI then dismissed the two employees from service and they have since been arrested.


It may be sheer coincidence that the abuse came to light, probably due to the high profile nature of the case and the person involved in it. Otherwise it would have gone unnoticed and the proceedings of the case would have progressed on the lines desired by the manipulators.


We have heard in the past about special ‘agents’ who facilitate what is known in legal parlance as bench hunting, a process by which influential litigants get their cases heard by ‘pliable’ benches.  This happens mostly in the lower courts, but development of the practice as a full-fledged business by unscrupulous elements has had its impact even on the apex court. There have been several cases where these agents had managed to fix benches hearing cases that may be sensitive to influential people, whether in the corporate sector, government or even the general public.


Influence peddling happens at different levels for interested parties. It could start with the bench itself. In the event of attempts at that level not yielding results, the parties could approach facilitators who help in ‘buying’ favourable decisions. And even when such attempts fail, they could subvert the process by manipulating various things, including the date of hearing to suit the requirements of the persons who are both desirous of such change and can afford to pay. It is an open secret that there are agents ready to push things at every level.


The points raised by the landmark press conference by four senior judges — led by retired Supreme Court judge Chelameswar, and one of them the present CJI — are still fresh in public memory. The judges had expressed concern about judicial decisions being marred by bias, bench preferences and lack of transparency.


The press conference that Justice Chelameswar himself described as an ‘extraordinary event’,  was to highlight the fact that the administration of the Supreme Court  was “not in order and many things which are less than desirable have happened in the last few months.” Unless this institution is preserved, “democracy will not survive” in this country, Chelameswar cautioned.


In 2014, former Supreme Court Bar Association president  Dushyant Dave had stormed into the court of the then CJI, Justice R M Lodha, to complain that ‘bench hunting’ was rampant in the apex court too, forcing the CJI to initiate a probe.


The Chief Justice ordered a probe into the charge as it was seen that the trend “will eventually shake people’s confidence in the Indian justice system”.


Curiously, a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra, who later became the CJI himself, had talked about the danger of ‘forum shopping’.  He had warned that if the tendency is allowed to prevail, “it is likely to usher in anarchy, whim and caprice and in the ultimate eventuate shake the faith in the adjudicating system.”


The biggest irony, however, is that Justice Misra, when he became the chief justice, was accused of all that he was lamenting about earlier. In fact, one of the most serious charges levelled by the four judges at the press conference was about manipulation of the roster so as to pick judges of choice to hear certain cases.


The judges had referred to instances where cases having far reaching consequences for the nation and the institution have been assigned by the chief justices selectively to the benches ‘of their preference’ without any rational basis for such assignment. All this points to the harsh reality that we are still far from an equitable justice system and that the delivery of justice is a privilege restricted to those who can afford it; for those who cannot, it continues to be a mirage.


While the decision to induct officials of CBI and police to monitor the work of the Registry makes sense in terms of its administrative implications, it plants a serious doubt in the mind of public about our judiciary. With CBI itself and police suffering from low credibility, the question remains as to who would prevent the watchers from becoming corrupt, which is a clear possibility, given the general decline in moral standards in the country. (IPA Service)



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