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Is The Modi Govt Interfering In The Judiciary? A six-part guide

Short Answer: Yes.

Nearly three months after Justice J Chelameswar and three other senior Supreme Court judges held a press conference questioning the allocation of cases by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), a letter written on March 21 by Chelameswar to the CJI, asking him to consider convening a full court on “the executive interference” in judiciary, has once again sparked a big controversy. Here’s all you need to know about what’s happening in India’s top court and to what degree is the Modi government responsible for it:

1) On March 21 Justice Chelameswar wrote a letter to CJI Dipak Misra March 21, and copied it to 22 Judges of the Supreme Court, questioning a probe initiated by the Karnataka high court Chief Justice against a district and sessions judge, P Krishna Bhat, at the instance of Union ministry of law and justice, despite his name being recommended for elevation to the high court twice by the SC Collegium

2) The Modi government has been sitting on the case of Bhat’s elevation to Karnataka High Court despite the Supreme Court Collegium reiterating that he be elevated in April 2017. Bhat had originally been recommended by the Collegium in August 2016

3) In 2016, the law ministry held back Bhat’s appointment citing allegations of “atrocities and abuse of power” made against him by a subordinate officer, MS Shashikala. But an inquiry by Justice S K Mukherjee, the then Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court,had found the allegations to be “incorrect and concocted”

4) On April 6, 2017, Bhat’s name was reiterated by the Collegium — which consisted of the then CJI, J S Khehar, and Justices Dipak Misra and Chelameswar— to the Union law ministry. As per the judgment in the ‘Second Judges Case’, once the Collegium reiterates a name, it is incumbent upon the law ministry to issue warrants for appointment of the person concerned

5) But the government did not issue the warrant for Bhat and in December 2017, it directly forwarded a fresh complaint by Shashikala to Karnataka High Court, asking it “to look into the issue”. Shashikala alleged that Bhat had “managed” her earlier complaint

6) Justice Maheshwari then convened a meeting of the Administrative Committee No. 1 on March 4 to reinvestigate the issue. On March 12, he informed CJI Misra about it through a letter which in turn was circulated to Justices Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi. Justice Chelameswar’s letter on March 21 demanding a full court was written in response to the letter by Justice Maheshwari.

Who is P Krishna Bhat?

• P Krishna Bhat is a District and Sessions judge in the Belagavi district of Karnataka

• In 2014, he sent a report to the High Court relating to the misconduct of MS Shashikala, then a Judicial Magistrate of First-Class

• The High Court opened a vigilance case but did not act on it until February 2016

• When Bhat’s name was cleared to become a High Court judge, Shashikala filed a complaint against him

• The allegations were investigated by former Chief Justice SK Mukherjee

• Justice Mukherjee found them to be concocted and incorrect and that Shashikala had made her allegations only to malign Bhat

• In the March 21 letter, Chelameswar J points out that the Centre not clearing Bhat’s elevation is a classic case of the Centre “sitting on the file”

• Justice Cheameshwar writes: “If the government had any reservations or misgivings about Shri Krishna Bhatt’s nomination, it could have sent back the recommendation for our reconsideration — a well-established though long forgotten practice. Instead, it sat tight on the file. In other words, our recommendation still retained its validity and legitimacy. For sometime, our unhappy experience has been that the government’s accepting our recommendations is an exception and sitting on them is the norm. ‘Inconvenient’ but able judges or judges to be are being bypassed through this route.”

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