New Delhi: Justice Jasti Chelameswar, the second most senior judge in the Supreme Court, has retired today. He was one of the four judges who, in January, had questioned the way cases are assigned in the Supreme Court. He has said he will not take any employment from the government after his retirement. On whether going for the press conference was a move he would look back and see in a different light, Justice Chelameswar told NDTV: “No, I don’t repent.”
Here’s the full transcript of Justice Chelameswar’s interview with NDTV:
NDTV: For the first time in the history of the Supreme Court, four senior judges came out in public and expressed their grievances against the functioning of the Chief Justice of India. Justice Chelameswar, who led the so-called protest, is now with us to share his experience and views on the judiciary. Thank you for joining us. You spent almost 21 years as a judge, out of which six-and-a-half years were in the Supreme Court. What other activity sir? Will you be writing some kind of a book or some sort of government job?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: No, no government job. I have made an announcement more than a year ago that I will not accept any government job. Writing is an option. I will try to write.
NDTV:: Can we expect a bestselling book from you?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: No, I don’t know, what books are best I don’t know.
NDTV:: No, what all happened behind the courts?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: That is the least of my concern. I would like to write something more serious, more on what happened of transient relevance and transient excitement, more serious work is required.
NDTV:: What type of work, sir?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Evaluation of the role of Supreme Court and in sustaining the democracy in this country, its pitfalls, so those areas which perhaps, I might.
NDTV: Sir, what were the reason for the press conference? What was the trigger?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: There’s nothing like a trigger, it’s like the culmination of a lot of things.
NDTV:: So, you have been hearing this for a long time?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Yes. In fact, if you recollect the letter which we handed over to the press it was written in November 2017 and not on the day of the press conference. So there are certain things which are happening which we pointed out since we were not able to find out a satisfactory resolution of the issues. So we had to hold out…
NDTV:: Because normally judges going public, so I think even some of the former judges also commented about the same thing, why they should hold the full court meeting and solve…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: they leave it or rise. When they wrote in November there was no response, what is the further resolution? Is it to advise sitting outside the court? Don’t make comment, I am not going to ask you who made that comment. We are not children. We are not looking for some publicity or limelight or holding a press conference. We are responsible people, we are normal people and then what makes you people believe that we didn’t make any effort to get that thing resolved before that?
NDTV:: So, all efforts were made?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Yes, all efforts were made. Having realised that there is no way we can solve the problem so we had to go for a press conference.
NDTV:: What is the cooperation from the other judges apart from the…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Let’s not talk about it. It’s all in the public domain. Yes, all four of us were held responsible.
NDTV:: So, do you repent it now, sir?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: No, I don’t repent.
NDTV:: What you did is the right thing?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Of course, I believe what I did is right.
NDTV:: But sir, for a common man in the street he feels seeing that my judges are fighting among themselves just for….
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Who is this common man? Please tell me.
NDTV:: There are so many people
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: So, whenever we talk about, you can enquire there is a large number of common man writing on the internet. If you follow the internet in very loud terms. So, let’s not go by these things.
NDTV:: But after all these things done, is it now that all is well in the Supreme Court?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I can’t say all is well in the Supreme Court. We pointed out certain problems. It takes time to get things corrected.
NDTV: But you wanted the allocation of cases to be almost done by the senior judges or the present system is not wrong after that the new roster put on the website?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: You know the facts.
NDTV: You know the people are watching.
NDTV: Yes, I know one even spoke.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: No, I don’t want to know, destroy their privacy, but this is the problem. If we believe something is going wrong, and still we don’t want to speak out. Giving general lecture around freedom of speech is all fine in an air-conditioned hall. When you don’t protect it or when you don’t exercise it when it is required to be exercised, then it’s trouble.
NDTV: So, it is not being given now?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: See even now there is a lot to be achieved. No problem is completely solved.
NDTV: So are they achieved or they are yet to be achieved?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Yes.
NDTV: It was being reported one of the cases was (judge BH) Loya, then there was this difference of opinion on it. Is it that judge Loya case was also…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Judge Loya case?
NDTV: Because the next day it was sent to some other judge.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I don’t know what happened. I didn’t deal with that case at any point.
NDTV: No, no, but is it one of the points that there is a lot of other issues.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Lot of other issues were there. I told you it all started much before, it was an accident that Loya’s case was to heard at that point of time.
NDTV: Sir but now this Alokesh Nath case is even earlier, also other Chief Justices used to do that but nothing happened, why suddenly? All the other Chief Justices said they don’t have their… nothing came out in public?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I agree, but were cases withdrawn from bench of judge Loya? It was listed before to a particular bench but were they withdrawn?
NDTV: I never heard that stuff right now.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Accusing is stories. Was it withdrawn, there might have been one or two incidents, we don’t know what transpired, but that was happening. Cases were being withdrawn.
NDTV: So present tenure these cases were happening so that’s why you cannot…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: That I told you any one of these things is not the only reason. I told you these are all various factors which ultimately came in the open at the press conference. None of these things is by itself a factor.
NDTV: So was merging for a long time just one day…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: So many issues on the administrative side.
NDTV: But can it be made public now?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: No, no.
NDTV: But do you feel all these issues will be…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I am sure in some time it will get resumed.
NDTV: The next Chief Justice would be Justice Gogoi?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I can’t say, next year or after 10 years I can’t say that… naturally once people start debating these issues some time or the other so unless people don’t debate these things it is going to go on like that.
NDTV: What all happened so far from the withdrawal of the cases, lot of things went on, you know, has the image of the Supreme Court been affected, what do you think?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I don’t know, I was sitting inside, you must have known, you were sitting outside. What do you think of the Supreme Court today?
NDTV: No, but the common man’s feeling is that all is not well with the Supreme Court, so there is a suspicion.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I will tell you. So, day in and day out you people publish news about what all wrong things are happening in the government, this government, that government, state government, central government, now, earlier, future. So, people knows what happens in the government, they are still watching. They were use faking individuals in the context of political government, even the loss of faith is transient. The particular party which got two seats in Lok Sabha, later they repeatedly came to power, the particular party which ruled the country for 30 years they all lost. All these are transient things.
NDTV: You mean to say institutional treatment?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: See, institutional I don’t think has lost its importance or its credibility; and on the other hand, by not cleaning of the system you will create more damage if there is some error, some shortcoming that needs to be rectified by ignoring it or dusting it under that carpet. I don’t think it will be that, what I believe, therefore I acted.
NDTV: The new roster which was put out on the website has its own problem to settle?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I told you it is not like, nothing like solving the problem; it is nothing like putting the roster. Roster is one of those minor aspects of the problem.
NDTV: But I still recollect you saying in the press conference you just came public because of national interest, you said.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Yes.
NDTV: So, what is the national interest, can you specify?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: When things are not done the way they are expected to be done, things are not done in a transparent way, would it not harm the nation? So, what is the purpose of these institutions to hold these things, even between conflicting interests of these parties and this is a court, which has been conferred with the authority by the Constitution to eradicate the differences between the state and the individual. State is a mighty organ and when a citizen is confronted with some activity of the state which is different to its interests and the question is not handled with utmost caution and passion and balance, would it not be recommended to national interest?
NDTV: So, this is after being so many years. This will also…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: So, exactly what was said we don’t want any person to say after 30 years that this was not acted in good faith.
NDTV: You said certain things in national interest.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: See, this will not create more and more controversy, this will not help. It will not help, this kind of a press conference or this kind of an interview. It requires a larger debate for the society.
NDTV: Right, sir. Has it happened, larger debates?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I think lot of debate is going on in the country, lot of debate is going on, that in itself is a good sign.
NDTV: Sir, you said national interest, that’s why you came in public, is it only the present tenure of it this year also?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: No, no, it is I am not saying this CJI or other aberrations. There have always been variations here and there, and all these things happen because the system is not in order. Now what is it that is not in order can be discussed but not at an individual level. If a proper debate is organised, I am not talking about a press conference or your panel discussion.
NDTV: Sir. Justice Joseph will make it to the Supreme Court?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I don’t know, how to, have an…
NDTV: Because you are a part of the collegium and…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Yes, of course and my views are on, my views are on record. For the last two years I have been saying, that he must be brought to the Supreme Court. He has still not come. So, how can I know when he will come?
NDTV: But sir, tell me one thing, we had asked the collegium and they had said that you recommended him, sent him to the government, sent it back because of some sort of objections because of which you had also returned, rebutting all this, to the Chief Justice.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I again gave my views in writing.
NDTV: But why again, not sending the file? You have…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Because I don’t send it finally.
NDTV: So, it means that there is no consensus here?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I don’t want to say those things, nothing like…
NDTV: But it seems all not…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Let, I don’t want to say what is going on in there. It’s not right for me to discuss about it, as I told you, I have put my views already on record in writing, let’s see what happens.
NDTV: See, sir, it takes a long time to come here and sometimes, the person who wants to come here loses his interest, it affects? Does it affect the, I mean just what being elevated to Supreme Court?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: It does to some extent affect, does affect.
NDTV: But it is also being said, collegium five members, say all from different regions in the selection, if you want to put me in a sort of bargaining position, one fellow will say, no, no, let two people come from my region, another people, so another judge will say…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: So, I fought for KM Joseph, he doesn’t belong to my region, my state, my language, my community. Nothing. No, no, I still fought for him, still fought for him.
NDTV: My point is that, is this sort of…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Well, these things at least they just said this, earlier also they just said this, remember when Ruma said this.
NDTV: Ruma Pal said this?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: These things happen, but at least I was not a party to this. As far as possible I did not allow this to happen.
NDTV: But these things do happen, happened and happening?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: But as long as I was there, I tried not to permit this.
NDTV: Sir, secondly, how should the Judiciary keep itself away from, what is the distance between the government and the judiciary?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: See, the distance between the government and the judiciary is in the matter of adjudication of the cases, not physical distance. That I don’t talk to a politician. I don’t attend a politician’s marriage. This kind of thing is more form, not the content. Independence has to be shown in the performance of your duty.
NDTV: Sir, I have been told by a former Chief Justice of India, I don’t want to name him in public…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Former Chief Justice of…
NDTV: India, in public, saying that you could have come to the Supreme Court earlier, but there were some…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Even I don’t know what transpired, at least I was not here. What transpired…
NDTV: You might have heard…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I mean there’s no point, it’s all history today, there’s no point in repeating it. I didn’t come earlier, I didn’t come earlier.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: It is irrelevant also for the nation, what is relevant is what have I done in the last 6 years 9 months. Did I make any good contribution to the jurisprudence? Did I any, did my work anyway help improve the democratic institutions of the country? Did it anyway help the people of this country? That’s more relevant than whether I became the Chief Justice or not.
NDTV: It’s also being said, since you could not come in time, you could have become Chief Justice of India. That’s the grievance you still carry, all these things happened because of that.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: It’s a matter of opinion.
NDTV: It’s a matter of opinion.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: It’s a matter of opinion, see…
NDTV: Because most of the people…
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Can I, can I also say something now that you have asked this question. They are all interpretations. Why did Gandhi-ji fight the British empire? Please tell me.
NDTV: Independence, to get independent India.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Independence. That’s what you believe, can I make an alternative suggestion? He was travelling by a train in a first-class compartment. He was thrown out of the first-class compartment, which meant he could not complete his journey, it caused financial loss to him and therefore he protested the British empire. This is one way of looking at the thing. If you want to trivialise, then you can attribute anything to anybody.
NDTV: I am just asking.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: That’s what I’m saying. If that’s the way you, if the nation is happy thinking that, well I won’t like to deprive the nation of its happiness, that’s the only way to understand what all they did.
NDTV: Some of it detracts.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I understand, I know, a relentless campaign was carried on, on these lines it was till January 12. People are happy with that belief, then let them be happy, I have no problem with it.
NDTV: Is there is some kind of interference from the government, not with this government, any government with judiciary?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: With my work?
NDTV: No, no. Generally, with judiciary, interference from the government. Not to any particular government.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Occasionally, subtle efforts are made, sometimes, I don’t know. You remember those days ’70s when Mrs. Gandhi was the Prime Minister. There was a slogan “committed judiciary”, they wanted people who subscribed to a particular political philosophy only. Right or wrong, I’m not going into all these questions. Attempts are always made, not only in India, but every country, it happens.
NDTV: Is it more now, sir?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: I can’t say that now or then.
NDTV: Coming to the appointment, you said always it seems to be a hill. Normally the media carry government versus judiciary because appointments are way more interesting because once you send it in it comes back and again it takes a long time. How long will it go? Even the memorandum of procedure.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: No, no, at least until yesterday I had some say in the matter, now I have no say in the matter. How will it go?
NDTV: Yes, yes, you can speak freely now.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: No, no. That’s what I’m saying. How can I tell? It all depends.
NDTV: No, no, so many, 6, probably, Justices to be appointed in Supreme Court if I can tell, and then particularly this appointment recently.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Even if a few commendations are made it is but fair that somebody should process them as early as possible. If governments do not process the recommendations for months together, that would lead to situation where appointments are not being made and benches are not being built up. All this will result in creation of more and more pendency.
NDTV: Which is happening?
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Yes, yes, it happens.
NDTV: Sir, everyone asks and says that the Supreme Court is just like college when you have the winter holidays, summer holidays, Diwali holidays. Do you think it should be cut? It’s quite a long number of holidays.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Do you know how many number of hours a day I work Mr Vaidyanathan?
NDTV: I was told, sir, I don’t know.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: An average of 14 hours a day I worked. All of you only see me in the court hall from morning 10:30 to evening 4, seeing the lunching tray and everything. Now what I do before 10:30 in the morning and after 4 in the evening is not known to the world. And winter vacation and summer vacation. No, the entire vacation is relaxing and making a cushy trip somewhere. A good number of us do a lot of work during session breaks. There are some who enjoy. That’s a different matter.
NDTV: There might be aberrations also, so holidays are right thing, that’s what you’re saying.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Yes, some amount. Just imagine, you know the Supreme Court of America decides an average of 120 cases every year. And any judge of Indian Supreme Court decides at least 1,000-1,500 cases a year.
NDTV: And one of the crucial, cruel parts is that you can’t even go for two and a half hours in the morning and afternoon.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: So, to think that judges don’t deserve vacation at all, no; one more thing, judgement writing is not an easy job. It requires a lot of contemplation. It requires a calm mind to write a judgement. Some of the more important and crucial judgements are kept aside for vacation periods, so that you have that freedom. Otherwise, morning you have to get ready for the day’s work and then come back and still you have to write shorter judgements. So, some of the crucial judgements, which require a great deal of contemplation and thinking are kept for the vacation. And sometimes we are under tremendous pressure. For example, all of us, when we heard the privacy matter, all of us had literally three weeks to write the judgement because Justice Khehar was retiring. They don’t have to be problem before their retirement. Otherwise matter would have to be reheard. So, in the beginning he said that brothers I’m retiring therefore let’s conclude about the judgement. Actually, we had to work overnight to complete the judgement. At an important issue like that writing a judgement in such a short span of time, only a lawyer understands how stressful it is to write a judgement and also maintain some quality of it.
NDTV: Thank you very much sir, I wish you best of luck, spend more time with your family now.
JUSTICE: CHELAMESWAR: Yes.
NDTV: I think most of the judges don’t get time to spend.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: Hardly.
JUSTICE CHELAMESWAR: In fact, you ask my wife, she will give a 500-page complaint against me.