New Delhi, June 22 (IANS) After serving India’s top court for nearly seven years, Justice Jasti Chelameswar, who was the second senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, retired on Friday.
Justice Chelameswar’s last working day was on May 18, right before the Supreme Court closed for summer vacation.
The 65-year-old judge is one of the four top court judges who held an unprecedented press conference in January 12, saying “all was not well” on the administrative side of the Supreme Court.
Justice Chelameswar, along with three other senior judges, in the press conference publicly accused Chief Justice Dipak Misra of not strictly adhering to rules in assigning cases to appropriate benches which they said can create “doubt” about the integrity of the apex court.
The four judges — Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Madan B. Lokur besides Justice Chelameswar — had released an undated letter they wrote to Chief Justice Misra in which they conceded that the Chief Justice was the master of roster but this was “not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues”.
After Justice Chelameswar, Chief Juctice Misra will retire on October 2, followed by Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Lokur who will retire in November and December respectively.
Justice Chelameswar, who was also part of the five-member collegium, had “unanimously” recommended on January 10 the name of Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K.M. Joseph for elevation to the top court.
Justice Joseph’s name, however, was sent back to the collegium by the government on April 26 for reconsideration even as the Centre maintained that the rejection had nothing to do with his judgment quashing President’s Rule in Uttarakhand imposed by the Centre.
In a May 11 meeting, the collegium took an in principle decision to reiterate its recommendation for the elevation of Justice Joseph.
Now, Justice A.K. Sikri, who was number six in seniority before Justice Chelameswar’s retirement, will become part of the five-member collegium.
Justice Chelameswar was also part of the five-judge Constitution bench led by Justice J.S. Khehar that scrapped the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act to deal with appointments in higher judiciary.
He was the lone dissenting judge and opposed the collegium system of judges appointing judges, while observing that “proceedings of the collegium were absolutely opaque and inaccessible both to public and history”.
On his last day on May 18, he sat alongside Chief Justice Misra and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud in the Chief Justice’s Court as per a custom of the apex court that on the last working day, a retiring judge shares bench with the Chief Justice.
Some lawyers, including former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, his son Prashant Bhushan and senior advocate Dushyant Dave, praised his “courage, judicial approach and uprightness”, and said he did a “great job in upholding democracy”.
Justice Chelameswar — who turned down the Supreme Court Bar Association’s request to participate in a farewell function it wanted to arrange for him, saying he wanted his retirement to be a “private affair” — however attended a reception organised by Lawyers Collective on his last working day.
There, addressing a gathering, he said that he stood up for certain “issues and values” wherever he perceived things were going wrong and had nothing personal against anyone in the system.
Justice Chelameswar, who became the apex court judge on October 10, 2011, began his journey in the legal profession after graduating in law in 1976. He was appointed a permanent judge of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in May 1999.