Collegium meet on Justice K M Joseph’s elevation to Supreme Court concludes

A crucial meeting of the Supreme Court Collegium was held today to discuss the issue of reconsidering the name of Uttarakhand Chief Justice K M Joseph for elevation to the apex court, after it was returned by the Centre.

Official sources said the members of the Collegium deliberated on the issue for nearly an hour. Details on the outcome of the meeting are awaited.

All members of the Collegium — Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, participated in the deliberations.

The decision to convene the meeting was taken late last evening by the CJI.

It is pertinent to mention that Justice J Chelameswar, the senior-most judge of the apex court, had on May 9 written a letter to the CJI urging him to convene the Collegium meet to urgently forward Justice Joseph’s name to the Centre.

The government had on April 26 returned the Collegium’s recommendation to elevate Justice Joseph seeking its reconsideration, saying the proposal was not in accordance with the top court’s parameters and there was adequate representation of Kerala in the higher judiciary from where he hails. It had also questioned his seniority for elevation as a judge of the apex court.

According to an apex court official, Justice Chelameswar, in his letter sent to the CJI, had conveyed that he was reiterating his decision favaouring elevation of Justice Joseph as the judge of the top court as there was no change in the circumstances that had led the Collegium to recommend his name to the government on January 10.

It is also learnt that Justice Chelameswar, who retires on June 22, has responded to all the points raised in the communication to the CJI by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad expressing reservations on the elevation of Justice Joseph.

The meeting of the Collegium was expected to take place on May 9 but Justice Chelameswar was on leave.

Justice Kurian Joseph, during his visit to Kerala last week, had also reportedly made it clear that he was in favour of reiterating the recommendation of the Collegium on the issue concerning the Uttarakhand Chief Justice.

Pension and other benefits to former MPs justified: SC

The Centre today told the Supreme Court that the entitlement of former Member of Parliament (MPs) to get pension and other benefits was “justified” as their dignity has to be maintained even after they complete their tenure as parliamentarians.

Attorney General K K Venugopal told a bench comprising Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul that MPs have to “nurse their constituencies” and contest elections every five year and for this, they have to travel in their respective constituencies.

Venugopal made the arguments while opposing a petition which has raised several questions, including how the MPs could themselves determine their salaries and perks, It has also sought the scrapping of pension to them and their family members.

“Parliament is the law-making authority. Parliament has to ensure that so far as MPs are concerned, they can function effectively,” he told the bench, adding, “MPs have to go for elections every five year. They have to go to their constituencies and travel. So giving pension to them is justified.”

During the arguments, S N Shukla, general secretary of petitioner NGO ‘Lok Prahari’, referred to a report and claimed that 82 per cent of the MPs were ‘crorepati’ and taxpayers cannot be burdened with paying pension to former MPs and their family members.

To this, the bench said, “Let the taxpayers vote them out. Let them do it. We cannot stop them. You are making grand statements. Should we go into the data of how many bureaucrats are ‘crorepati’. Should we go into it? It is not permissible for us to go into this kind of a debate”.

At the outset, the Attorney General referred to a constitution bench judgement and said the issues raised in the plea were fully covered by the verdict of a larger bench.

He said what the petitioner was arguing would “belittle the competence of the Parliament” and it was not possible to compare the pension and benefits given to other public servants with that of former parliamentarians.

“You cannot compare one set of constitutional authority with the other. So question of Article 14 (equality before law) does not arise at all. Nobody’s rights are affected,” Venugopal said, adding, “their (MPs) dignity has to be maintained even after completion of their tenure”.

“The entire challenge on the basis of that they should not be given the benefits, is wholly misconceived,” he told the bench, which reserved its verdict on the plea.

The Attorney General also told the bench that the Centre has “given up” the idea of having an independent mechanism to determine the salaries and allowances of the MPs.

The petitioner told the court that the issue concerns taxpayers’ money and giving pension and other benefits to former MPs was discriminatory.

To this, the bench said, “You cannot compare it like this. Your submission is that equate a bureaucrat with a parliamentarian”.

“We agree with you that this is not an ideal situation, but this is not for the court to decide,” the bench told the petitioner and asked whether there was any other democracy in the world where such questions were debated in the court.

When Shukla referred to a media report, the bench shot back, “freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed and we cannot stop that”.

The court had yesterday observed that parliamentarians determining their salary and perks themselves was an “moral” and “ethical issue”.

The Centre had told the bench about the Finance Bill 2018 which contains provisions regarding salary and pension of MPs and also about revision of their allowances after every five years starting from April 1, 2023, on the basis of cost inflation index.

The apex court had last month directed the Centre to clarify its stand on setting up of an independent mechanism for determination of salaries and allowances of MPs after the government had said the issue was “under consideration”.

The apex court had in March last year agreed to examine the constitutional validity of laws granting pension and other perks to retired MPs and had sought responses from the Centre and ECI on the issue.

The NGO has approached the apex court challenging the Allahabad High Court order dismissing its plea which had claimed that pension and other perks being given to MPs even after demitting office were contrary to Article 14 (Right to Equality) of the Constitution.

The plea has also said that Parliament has no power to provide for pensionary benefits to lawmakers without making any law.

SC judges row has been resolved: Bar Council of India

The Bar Council of India (BCI) today said the crisis, which had erupted after four top Supreme Court judges came out openly against allocation of cases by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, has been resolved internally and the “story is over now”.

BCI Chairman Manan Kumar Mishra, who led a seven-member delegation and held hectic parleys with 15 judges including the CJI yesterday, said the controversial issues flagged by the four revolting judges were “internal issues of the family” which have been resolved internally.

“Kahani khatam ho gaya (the story is over now)”, he said even as he cautioned political parties and their leaders not to take undue mileage from the January 12 press conference by the four judges to raise problems, including the assigning of cases, saying the matter should not be politicised.

“We met around 15 judges yesterday and all of them said that BCI has done a very good job and this mediation was required. They have now resolved the issue.

“BCI has been successful in its effort. No outside interference was required in the matter and even we will not impose any condition on them and they themselves would solve their differences over a cup of tea,” he told reporters here.

At a press conference on January 12, the four judges — Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph — had flagged some issues, including assigning of cases in the apex court and judicial appointments, and said there were certain problems afflicting the country’s highest court.

“Everything will be sorted out and they have resolved whatever issues are there. We are expecting that everything will be settled and they will evolve an in-house mechanism,” Mishra.

He also referred to Attorney General’s K K Venugopal’s statement in which he is reported to have said that the issue has been resolved.

“They have resolved the issue and you can see that the courts are functioning smoothly and they are discharging their duties. There is nothing left”, Mishra said.

Responding to a question whether an investigation should be ordered on allegations of the senior most judges, Mishra said the Bar body was not concerned with this and there is no question of any probe.

He also said the death of special CBI judge B H Loya, who was trying the Sohrabudin Sheikh fake encounter case, should not be raked up as his family members have made their stand clear and want no more harassment.

“There is no question of any probe (into points raised by four judges in the presser). If somebody tries to bring Justice Loya’s issue then you can see their family members have already said there is no need for any investigation and they were being unnecessary harassed.

“We are only concerned with smooth functioning of this institution. We have no right to say and decide whether there should be a Code of Conduct,” he said.

On the issue of bringing more clarity in the functioning of the top court, the BCI Chairman said the system was working properly and “there was transparency”.

“They have evolved a formula and while rejecting a name for elevation they are assigning the reason and it is there on the Supreme Court website. What more transparency do you want,” he said.

He said all the four top judges have resolved the differences and were attending the court today.

To a question whether any action should be taken against them for criticising the Chief Justice of India, he said there is no need of any action and they “are all honest and men of integrity.”

Yesterday, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra had met a seven-member delegation of the BCI and Supreme Court Bar Association President Vikas Singh and assured them that the crisis would be sorted out soon and congeniality would prevail.

Source : PTI

CJI refuses to be part of panel to select NJAC members : SC

dattuIn a new twist, Chief Justice of India H L Dattu has refused to participate in a three-member panel for selecting two eminent persons in the six-member National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) on whose validity a constitution bench began hearings today.

The five-judge constitution bench, headed by Justice J S Khehar, which is hearing the issue of constitutional validity of the new law on appointment of judges to higher judiciary, was told by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that Dattu has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he would not participate in the meeting of the panel till the matter is decided by the apex court.

The three-member panel comprises Chief Justice of India, Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition, who are authorised to select and appoint two eminent persons in the six-member NJAC for appointment of judges to higher judiciary.

When it was brought to the notice of the bench, also comprising Justices J Chelameswar, Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel, it heard the views of various senior advocates on how to proceed with the matter taking into account that in the immediate future there would be the eventuality of appointment of existing additional judges of the high courts whose tenures are coming to an end.After taking note of their views, the judges retired to their chambers and assembled after 15 minutes.

Justice Khehar said that the bench has decided to continue with the hearing on the merits of the case and if needed it will pass an interim order.

“A consensus has emerged that we will continue with the merits of the case and when it is necessary we will pass an interim order,” the bench said.

The AG submitted that it is mandatory for the CJI to be the part of the panel in selection and appointment of eminent persons in the six-member commission.He said a direction should be passed for the CJI to participate in the meeting.

However, his view was not shared by senior advocate Fali S Nariman, who is appearing for Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association (SCAORA), said that if the CJI is not participating, the bench can direct others to meet and participate.

The apex court also sought the view of senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, who said, that the bench has to see if prima facie, a case for staying the operation of NJAC Act is made out or not.
However, senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Haryana government and supporting the new law, submitted that the bench can continue with the hearing as the question of additional judges of high courts will arise only on May 20 and in the meantime if the hearing goes on the judges will get the grasp of what is going to be the prima facie view.
Salve further said that the bench has to, on one hand, consider the sensitivity of the head of the judicial family that is the CJI, and the will of the Parliament which led to the constitution of the NJAC, on the other.
He also said let the matter be heard for seven-eight days and then a view can be taken on the entire issue.
“Today we are at the very initial stage,” Salve said, adding that staying the amendment at this stage will not be the right thing to do.
On April 23, the apex court had said that NJAC will only deal with appointment of existing additional judges of High Courts, whose tenures are ending during pendency of the controversy, after it was assured by the AG that commission will not appoint judges to the higher judiciary and will move the court in such an eventuality.
Earlier, the bench had asked Rohatgi to take instruction from competent authority about the additional judges in high courts whose tenure is coming to an end in the immediate future when the matter will be pending before the court.
The AG had said that barring four-five cases, all recommendations of erstwhile collegium have been accepted.
On the issue of re-appointment or extension of additional HC judges, Rohatgi had said that tenures of two or three judges of Assam High Court, seven to eight in the Bombay High Court are ending in June and hence, the issue be “kept open” till May 11 as the NJAC is likely to be constituted by May 4.
The process to appoint two eminent persons in the six- member NJAC “will commence shortly” and the panel is “likely to commence working on May 4”, he had said.
The bench had said that the NJAC Act has to implemented as it has neither been stayed nor set aside.
Rohatgi had refuted the submission of Nariman that two eminent citizens, who would become part of the NJAC, will be embarrassed if the Act is set aside and said that they would be knowing that a litigation is pending.

SC to examine term ‘grossly offensive’ of IT Act provision

IT ActSupreme Court on Wednesday said that it will examine the term “grossly offensive” used in a provision of the Information Technology Act which empowers police to arrest web users for posting objectionable content. “What is grossly offensive to you, may not be grossly offensive to me and it is a vague term. We are only examining the term grossly offensive. Central Governments come and go but Section 66A (of the Information Technology Act) remains forever,” a bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Rohinton F Nariman said.The court’s observation came when Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said that nothing is “grossly offensive” unless it leads to violence. Resuming his arguments, the ASG said, “We are reconsidering the whole issue with respect to freedom of speech and expression. Nothing is grossly offensive unless it invites violence.”

“Nowadays with the proactive role of media and administrative authorities, whenever there is an aberration and which comes to the attention of the country, action is taken accordingly. This is not a ground for excuse but possible abuse is likely to be minimum in such a scenario.

“It is the case of the Central Government that Section 66A which uses expressions like causing ‘annoyance’, ‘inconvenience’, ‘obstruction’ etc essentially and mainly to deal with cyber crimes and has no relation with the freedom of speech and expression of any citizen,” Mehta said.

The ASG said the central government does not defend that part of the statute which offends the freedom of speech and expression. The apex court is hearing a batch of petitions challenging constitutional validity of several provisions of the Act. The petitions primarily came in the backdrop of the arrest of two Maharashtra girls for making comments on the shutdown of Mumbai for the funeral of Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray.

Move trial court against look-out notice: SC to Vectra chief

The Supreme Court today asked NRI businessman and Vectra chief Ravinder Rishi to approach the trial court for “appropriate relief” on his plea to quash the look-out notice issued by the CBI for alleged irregularities in supply of Tatra trucks to BEML.

A bench of justices Altamas Kabir and J Chelameswar passed the order while dealing with Rishi’s petition challenging the issuance of look-out notice and also seeking permission to travel abroad for his medical treatment.

Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi and Ranjit Kumar, appearing for Rishi, claimed despite and after registration of the FIR by the CBI for alleged irregularities in supply of the truck, the BEML on May 30 had issued fresh orders to the accused for supply of additional trucks.

The counsel also argued Rishi has been cooperating with investigating agencies for the past six months and has not been arrested so far, and accordingly, cannot be restrained from travelling abroad.

The bench, however, was not convinced with the arguments and directed Rishi to appear before the concerned trial court and seek appropriate relief.

Appearing for the CBI, Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra opposed Rishi’s plea for permission to visit UK purportedly for treatement of his various medical ailment, saying he may not return.

The apex court had on August 22 brushed aside Rishi’s plea for expeditious hearing of the matter as, he said, he needed urgent medical attention abroad. The court, however, had asked as to why the NRI cannot be examined by Indian doctors.