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CJI’s status as master of roster confirmed

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The Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday that the Chief Justice of India is the sole master of roster in allotment of cases to benches should remove any doubts in view of the campaign against Chief Justice Dipak Misra’s ‘unilateralism’ in assigning some sensitive cases to the second rung of judges. Constitutionally, that prerogative belongs to the CJI, it has now been made very clear by a two-judge bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan. It is arguable that such a PIL by former law minister and jurist Shanti Bhushan need not have been entertained since in two recent cases in which Chief Justice Misra had headed the benches, this principle had been borne out, but the fact is that the matter should be deemed to be settled once for all, leaving no room for contention.

The prayer in the petition was for a writ, order or direction holding and declaring that the listing of matters must strictly adhere to the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 and the Handbook on Practice and Procedure and Office Procedure, subject to the clarification that the words ‘Chief Justice of India’ must be deemed to mean a collegium of five senior-most judges of the apex court. The two-judge bench has now clarified that the collegium does not figure in the scheme of things and the CJI has the sole authority in allocating work to benches. Attorney General K K Venugopal, who was asked to assist the court, had argued that having a Collegium to allot cases among judges would only invite chaos. The judges rightly found merit in this. It is, of course, expected of the CJI to constitute the benches keeping fair play and propriety in mind but it would open up a Pandora’s box to question his motives and to dilute his authority. In that context, the two-judge bench has acted with wisdom and foresight in preserving the dignity of the institution.