As Master of Roster, the Chief Justice of a court has the sole prerogative to constitute benches and allocate cases to those benches.
In Shanti Bhushan v. Supreme Court of India, the apex court explained its stance as follows:
"Each ‘Chief Justice’ performs his role by consultation and consensus, after taking into account various factors including individual Judges’ interests and abilities, their specialisation in a particular area, their capacity to handle particular type of cases and many other relevant considerations. However, the exercise of such a power with wisdom has to be left to the ‘Chief Justice’ who is given the prerogative of the ‘Master of the Roster’."
Differentiating between the Chief Justice's powers on the judicial and administrative side, the top court in Asok Pande v. Supreme Court of India said,
"In his capacity as a Judge, the Chief Justice is primus inter pares: the first among equals. In the discharge of his other functions, the Chief Justice of India occupies a position which is sui generis (unique)."
Regardless of the fact that it has been made amply clear that the Chief Justice has absolute power to assign cases, questions continue to be raised, which is arguably attributable to the inherent opacity in the system.
This has been more evident of late, especially when it comes to the assignment of judges to Constitution Benches.
For the sake of adding clarity to the discourse, in this article, we take a look at the 5 and 7-judge Constitution Benches constituted by CJI DY Chandrachud since he assumed office in November 2022.
CJI Chandrachud has constituted 11 Constitution Benches so far: seven 5-judge benches and four 7-judge benches.
17 of the Court's current 33 judges have been included in Constitution Benches so far. This figure does not include Justices SK Kaul and S Ravindra Bhat - who were assigned to 3 and 1 benches respectively - since they have since retired from service.
Notably, CJI Chandrachud has assigned himself to every bench he has constituted since taking office.
Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra have both been assigned to 8 benches each.
Next on the list is Justice Sanjiv Khanna who was assigned to 5 benches. Justice Khanna will take over as CJI when CJI Chandrachud demits office this November.
Future CJIs BR Gavai, Surya Kant, Vikram Nath, PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala have all been assigned to at least one bench.
However, Justice BV Nagarathna, who will be India's first woman CJI, has not been assigned any Constitution Bench cases yet.
Justice KV Viswanathan, who will also be CJI from August 2030 to May 2031, was first assigned to a 7-judge bench to hear the Aligarh Muslim University case. However, he was later replaced by Justice SC Sharma.
The following judges are yet to be assigned to a Constitution Bench by CJI Chandrachud:
Justice Aniruddha Bose
Justice JK Maheshwari
Justice BV Nagarathna
Justice CT Ravikumar
Justice Bela M Trivedi
Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia
Justice Sanjay Karol
Justice Sanjay Kumar
Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah
Justice Rajesh Bindal
Justice Aravind Kumaar
Justice Prashant Jumar Mishra
Justice KV Viswanathan
Justtice Ujjal Bhuyan
Justice AG Masih
Justice Sandeep Mehta
Among them, Justices Bose, Maheshwari, Nagarathna, Ravikumar, Trivedi and Dhulia were part of 5-judge benches constituted by CJI UU Lalit during his short tenure in 2022.
Due to the retirement of member judges, some of the benches constituted by CJI Lalit have since been dissolved. Any pending matters before those benches have been re-listed by CJI Chandrachud before benches that he constituted. Interestingly, several of the judges who were part of the previous benches have not found a place in the new benches.