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Master of roster: Only CJI can decide on allocating cases, AG tells SC

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday reserved order on ex-Law minister Shanti Bhushan’s Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the existing roster practice of allocation of cases by the Chief Justice of India.

Attorney General KK Venugopal while favouring the Chief Justice of India as the “master of roster” countered the plea stating that matters related to roster and allocation of cases can be done by the CJI only.

“If a number of judges are involved in deciding on allocation of cases, it might lead to a ‘chaos’,” the AG told the Supreme Court.

Senior advocate and former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan had earlier in April filed a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking clarification on the administrative authority of the CJI as the master of roster and for laying down the principles and procedure to be followed in preparing it for allocation of cases.

In the petition, CJI Dipak Misra had been named as one of the respondents along with the registrar of the Supreme Court.

The senior advocate has stated that the “master of roster” cannot be unguided and unbridled discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the CJI by hand-picking benches of select judges or by assigning cases to particular judges.

The petition said the CJI’s authority as the master of roster is “not an absolute, arbitrary, singular power that is vested in the chief justice alone and which may be exercised with his sole discretion.” It said that such an authority should be exercised by him in consultation with the senior judges of the Supreme Court in keeping with the various pronouncement of this court.

The petition assumes significance as on January 12, four senior judges J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph –who felt that they were being sidelined in allocation of important cases — had alleged that the situation in the Supreme Court was not in order and said many “less than desirable” things have taken place in the last few months. In an apparent warning, they said lack of impartiality in allocation of high profile cases could imperil India’s democracy.

They sent a seven-page letter to the Chief Justice, saying while he was the “master of the roster”, he was “only the first among equals — nothing more or nothing less”.

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