We have been hearing this word regularly when it comes to matters of the Supreme Court of India over the past few months.
Be it two petitions before the Supreme Court seeking a monitored inquiry into allegations of corruption against the higher judiciary in matters related to recognition of medical colleges. Or be it the resulting brouhaha over the matter being bulldozed by different benches of the Supreme Court than the ones originally hearing the two petitions separately. This resulted in the Supreme Court declaring that the Chief Justice of India was the 'master of the roster' with unbridled authority under the Constitution to determine which bench will hear what case. The way the entire matter was handled was unprecedented.
On the heel of these events, two senior judges of the Supreme Court, who are also members of the collegium, wrote to the Chief Justice of India criticising his handling of the functions of the collegium. They specifically recorded their opposition to publication of collegium resolutions as they perceived it to be a breach of human rights of sitting judges against whom adverse remarks may be recorded in the resolutions. The publication of the resolutions and the subsequent public criticism by senior judges was unprecedented.
The storm clouds were gathering with the apparent rift in the collegium culminating in the events of today which resulted in the Supreme Court being caught in the eye of the storm. The second to fifth senior-most judges of the Supreme Court held an unprecedented press conference today and opened a Pandora's box in public. They apprised the people of the country of their unhappiness with the administration of the Supreme Court led by the current Chief Justice and informed everyone of their failed attempts to resolve all issues. They also made public a two-month old letter addressed to the Chief Justice of India which requested him to address their grievances. What broke the camel's back was the issue of an inquiry into the death of Judge Loya which the Supreme Court is currently seized of.
The letter specifically expresses displeasure in the manner the Chief Justice has been allocating important matters to certain benches to the exclusion of benches headed by more senior judges. It also expresses reservations on handling of the finalization of the memorandum of procedure to appoint judges of the higher judiciary by the collegium. The letter stopped short of listing various instances which the four senior judges are unhappy about. This left the letter at the mercy of public discourse with guesses being hazarded from all quarters.
An eminent senior advocate recently wrote an article severely criticizing the manner in which the Chief Justice of India is exercising his administrative functions. My guess is as good as yours if this was the cue for the press conference.
Contrary to rumours, after the press conference, the Chief Justice of India held court as if nothing had happened and proceeded to take care of the matters of the day.
However, the dynamics of the Supreme Court have forever changed. The chain of events culminating in the press conference has ensured that the institution of the Supreme Court, the guardian of the Constitution, has been severely damaged. The appropriateness of the press conference will be argued upon for days to come. The consequences of the press conference will be far and wide.
The rift may affect the constitution of the bench for the Aadhar matter, or for any other matter of constitutional or public importance, as the actions of the Chief Justice of India will be under public scrutiny. The government's reaction to today's events remains to be seen with reports emerging that the Prime Minister summoned the union law minister to discuss the developments.
At the end of the day, the credibility of the judiciary has suffered a blow with dirty linen being aired in public. Unprecedented.