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FRIDAY, January 12, 2018, was a remarkable day in the annals of the Supreme

Court.  On that day, four members of the Collegium, [body comprising of the

Chief Justice of India and four senior-most Judges, who essentially select

Judges for the Supreme Court and the High Courts] rose midway through their

judicial work and headed for the official residence of Mr Justice J.

Chelmeshwar – senior-most amongst them. An impromptu Press Conference

had been arranged there.  Such a thing had never happened before. There was

shock, outrage and bewilderment all around in the Supreme Court Bar.

Notwithstanding the screechy TV anchors and preachy politician jamming the

news channels, freely doling out their conflicting and ill-considered views, the

crisis is real. More than anything else, it exposes the fragility of the Collegium

System, which is unable to resolve the inter-se differences – whatever they

are.  Those who conceptualised the Collegium System and those who upheld it

brusquely two years ago could not have imagined its untenability.

Outwardly, within a day the storm in the proverbial teacup dissipated. Two of

the four judges disclaimed the existence of any crisis situation; it appeared that

the issues related largely to the internal working of the Collegium and the

temperamental differences of its members.  

It is tragic that the existence of burning issues relating to the Supreme Court,

on which rests the future of rule of law, do not receive any attention it

deserves from those directly concerned.

It is a stark reality that the litigant public has quite some time ago lost hope

of getting any hearing of their cases in the Supreme Court, much less receiving

any justice. In the current year 2018, out of 190 working days, not less than 75

days  will be consumed by miscellaneous [admission] matters, leaving only 115

days for the final hearing of 60,500 pending cases. It is well known that even on

the “non-miscellaneous days” [NMDs] on an average 30 minutes out of 4 hours

30 minutes are consumed by miscellaneous cases, leaving only four hours a

day for final hearing cases. In terms of “Judge Hours” [JHs] out of 855 JHs

available during the year 2018, 460 JHs will be consumed by final hearing cases

and 395 JHs by the miscellaneous [admission] cases. At this rate, for decades to

come, turn of final hearing cases admitted 6-10 years back is unlikely to come.

Will all such cases and the cases now being admitted not become infructuous?

It is difficult to erase from the public mind the deeply ingrained impression

that Supreme Court now deals only with “breaking news” type of high profile

corporate or PIL cases; it has no time for an ordinary run of cases concerning the

common man.

Ever since the entrenchment of “Collegium system” [which concept does

not find place in any express or implied provision of the Constitution],  it is

widely held public perception that appointments to the Supreme Court and the

High Courts is a “closed-circuit” phenomenon.  To replace that system, process

of constitutional amendment involving Parliament and all the State

Legislatures had been followed. Striking down a constitutional amendment of

such a character and having far-reaching consequences by anything less than

full strength of Judges of the Supreme Court remains unconvincing.

These are the pertinent issues which must receive immediate attention of

the Supreme Court, Parliament and Legislatures, Bar Council of India and the

Supreme Court Bar Association.


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Atul Manchanda

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