Justice Ranjan Gogoi is to take over as the next Chief Justice of India (CJI) after justice Dipak Misra retires in October this year.
But after Friday’s attack on Misra by a group of four judges, including Gogoi, questions are being asked whether the latter has hurt his prospects of being made the CJI.
Justice Gogoi, accompanied by three other senior judges of the apex court, levelled various allegations of abuse of power and bench-fixing by the incumbent CJI. There is no specific provision in the Constitution on the appointment of the Chief Justice of India. Article 124 of the Constitution deals with the manner of appointment of judges to the Supreme Court.
However, it has now been the norm for decades to appoint the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court as the CJI.
Conventionally, it is the outgoing CJI who recommends to the President of India the name of the senior-most judge for appointment as his successor.
In theory, Misra can recommend someone else over Gogoi, especially if he claims the latter’s behaviour has affected the image of the Supreme Court.
Still, it is a discretionary power that no CJI has exercised before. Indeed, any move to supersede or break the established line of succession in the apex court has come from the government rather from the institution itself.
The first incident of break from the established tradition in appointing the CJI came in 1973 when justice AN Ray was made the CJI superseding three judges. In 1977, Justice HR Khanna was the lone dissenting judge on a Supreme Court bench that ruled in favour of the government in a key case during the Emergency (1975-77). The case concerned the powers of the state during Emergency.
Khanna paid the price for his dissent when he was superseded by justice MH Beg for the post of Chief Justice by the Indira Gandhi government. He later resigned.