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