Not possible to protect judiciary from interference

Not possible to protect judiciary from interference

New Delhi: Supreme Court judge Justice Jasti Chelameswar during a book launch 'Appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court of India' edited by Arghya Sengupta and Ritwika Sharma in New Delhi, on Monday. PTI Photo by Ravi Choudhary(PTI4_9_2018_000210B)

Justice Jasti Chelameswar, who retired as a judge of the Supreme Court last Friday, is known for his outspoken views on the need for an independent judiciary. He, along with three brother judges, created a storm when they addressed a press conference on the functioning of the top court on January 12 this year. Reluctant to talk about that unprecedented event and its aftermath, the retired judge wishes to live a peaceful life, doing organic farming. He spoke to DH’s JBS Umanadh in the relaxed environs of his home in Pedamuttevi village in coastal Andhra’s Krishna district. Excerpts:

Two days after your retirement, the Bar Council of India (BCI) criticised you, saying that the whole legal fraternity felt that you had caused “damage” to the institution of the Supreme Court. How would you respond to them?

How can they say that the whole legal community is behind the BCI? I know many people who say that what I have done is right. Even Mahatma Gandhi was never backed by all the people of the country. Many might have respected him personally, but they opposed him politically. I don’t see any logic in those words. I leave it to their (BCI’s) wisdom.

Would you go ahead and make a statement against the BCI’s?

I really don’t have time to react to every person. They even alleged that I had alleged “bench fixing” in an interview with a television news channel. It was the person interviewing me who said that. I only replied to that. I told him that we really don’t have to go to the extent of calling it that, but yes, the situation is certainly of concern. But if the BCI attributes to me words I didn’t say, there is nothing I can do about that. The BCI, in its press release, could not even spell my name properly. Some of them will one day become judges.

Do you think that a constitutional amendment is required to change the way judges are selected to the Supreme Court? Is there increasing involvement of the Union government in selection of judges?

I never talked about the way judges are selected, and there is no such need to amend the Constitution for everything. What we need is transparency in the way the policies are implemented. Why I spoke up when I did – and by the way, let me say this: Recall the ADM Jabalpur case (when the Supreme Court cravenly upheld, in the midst of the Emergency, the suspension of all civil rights). People who didn’t say a single word at that time are now giving statements that it was wrong. None of us are superhumans; we are all normal people who make mistakes. Our effort should be to see that we don’t make those same mistakes now.

What can be done to secure judiciary from political interference?

It is not possible. Sometimes, the interference is subtle, sometimes crude, even in countries such as America, where the nomination of Supreme Court judges is done on political lines. But after the US President nominates a judge, his credentials will be put to thorough scrutiny. Only after that does Congress ratify the nomination.

The question is not whether the judge belongs to this party or that. What matters is what he is writing (in his judgements) and whether that has any theoretical background. Those people who don’t even know how to spell words properly don’t talk about that, they talk only politics.

You chose a path that other SC judges had seldom tread. Do you regret doing so?

I have said several times and I repeat that I don’t regret addressing that press conference. I am not a child and I don’t act on impulse.

What are your retirement plans? Any political aspirations?

I retired just a few days ago. I have to sit and think what I should do. This village will be my permanent address. I can’t say that I will be here all the time as my children are all in Hyderabad. I also made it clear that I won’t accept any nominations as head of commissions, etc. And there’s no chance of contesting polls or joining any political outfit.

When I gave the judgement on the appointment of judges (NJAC), I was called “a BJP man.” After the January press conference, I was branded “a Congress man.” After I met CPI’s D Raja, I was called “a Communist.”

I have 17-18 acres of ancestral land in this village. Even though I might not physically get into the field, because I have two stents in my heart, I might get into organic farming. I have a few ideas to implement. I have been meeting old friends from the Hindu High School in Machilipatnam, where I studied.

You have retired, but what about the issues that you have raised. Will you continue your fight for the causes you took up?

I still can express my opinion loudly. I will be glad if someone finds logic in what I say. As an outsider now, my role will be limited. But one thing is sure -- I know the system well, I know the strengths and weaknesses of the system. I can express an opinion, but I can’t make reforms happen from the outside. I tried my best during my stint in the SC. I believe that I succeeded to a certain extent. It is up to the people to decide, because they have to live with the system that they now know has lacunae. That is what we said in the January press conference. It is up to the nation to decide.