Unbridled, absolute Master of Roster powers of Chief Justice a problem, has to be streamlined: Former AG Mukul Rohatgi

Rules have to framed and the master of roster power needs to be streamlined, he said, agreeing with Senior Advocate and Congress leader Kapil Sibal who also voiced similar concerns.
Unbridled, absolute Master of Roster powers of Chief Justice a problem, has to be streamlined: Former AG Mukul Rohatgi
Mukul Rohatgi

The unbridled and absolute powers vested with Chief Justice of India and Chief Justices of High Courts, who as master of roster get to direct listing of cases and allocate cases to Benches, is a problem which needs to be addressed, former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said on Tuesday.

Rules have to be framed and the master of roster power needs to be streamlined, he opined, agreeing with Senior Advocate and Congress leader Kapil Sibal who had also said that master of roster power is a flaw that needs to be corrected.

"I agree with Kapil that this master of roster and absolute unbridled power to direct which case will be heard first and which will be heard later and how benches will hear cases is definitely a problem. It has to be streamlined and some rules have to be made. We had a huge problem on this account about two years ago," he said in an apparent reference to the controversy surrounding listing of cases during the tenure of former CJIs including Justices Dipak Misra and Ranjan Gogoi.

Rohatgi was speaking at a panel discussion organised on the topic "Personal Freedom and Judiciary".

The discussion was organised as part of the book launch of "In pursuit of Justice: An autobiography" by late Justice Rajinder Sachar.

Former Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan B Lokur, Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal and social activist Medha Patkar were other speakers on the panel which was moderated by journalist Rajdeep Sardesai.

Master of roster and absolute unbridled power to direct which case will be heard first and which will be heard later is definitely a problem.
Mukul Rohatgi

Rohatgi said that the issue of master of roster is just one of the problems faced by the Supreme Court.

He highlighted how the judiciary was facing a slew of issues including mounting pendency due to which the system is collapsing.

This he said was partly due to the fact that the Supreme Court has become a "super appellate court."

“The court is swamped by (umpteen) appeals that come to it. There are a variety of reasons for it. The court itself has opened the doors much wider than what the Constitution desired. So, it has become a ‘super appellate court’. Everything from the High Courts go to the Supreme Court, that was not what was intended,” he said.

Moreover, he also highlighted how the already mounting arrears have increased with tribunalisation since there are statutory appeals from most tribunals directly to the Supreme Court.

“Additionally, there have been tribunals created which has direct statutory appeals to the Supreme Court. Again this was not intended by the Constitution. If you have 30 judges and the population is one billion plus then, there is litigation galore. If that kind of stuff comes on your head, how can you carry that burden. The system is collapsing,” he said.

Supreme Court is swamped by appeals. It has become a super-appellate court.
Mukul Rohatgi

Interestingly, Rohatgi did not shy away from accepting the blame stating that Senior Advocates like Kapil Sibal and himself have contributed to the problem.

“Some say it has collapsed and some say is it collapsing, and to some extent lawyers like Sibal and I are to blame,” Rohatgi admitted.

"I was waiting for you to say that," Sardesai who was moderating the discussion chimed in.

“I am saying so. The kind of cases that comes to us, we are also overawed at times with the numbers and figures which are involved. We go running to the CJI who is the master of roster and say 'this will happen, that will happen, Rs. 10,000 crores will go down the drain, 5,000 jobs will be lost’. So everybody is human. That is why these cases at times get priority," he said.

To some extent, lawyers like Sibal and I are to blame.
Mukul Rohatgi

He also responded to Justice Madan Lokur’s statement that judges should be made of sterner stuff.

“From where do we get judges? From lawyers, and good lawyers are not ready to become judges because of low remuneration. An average lawyer, if he/ she becomes a judge will get only 1/5th of what the person earns as a lawyer. A good lawyer as a judge will get only 1/20th. So they would not want to become a judge. A lawyer has children. Who is going to get them married, how will they be educated? These things will weigh in the minds of the law. So those old notions are gone,” he said.
If you have your heart in the right place you will never go wrong. That is the problem with the Indian judiciary.
Kapil Sibal

He also said that increasing salaries of judges will again stir a hornets' nest because if that is done, bureaucrats, ministers and army personnel will all ask for increase in pay.

Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal, however, maintained that while the institution might have its drawbacks, many a time the problem rests with individual judges. He cited the example of master of roster to say that while the system was in place before too, its drawbacks became apparent only recently.

He pointed out how case of one journalist got listed before the Supreme Court during the vacation while when it came to another journalist, Siddique Kappan, who has been detained by the Uttar Pradesh police, the Court is reluctant to entertain the case and is asking the petitioner "to go to high court and trial court".

"If you have your heart in the right place you will never go wrong. That is the problem with the Indian judiciary," Sibal said.

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