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Supreme court judges in India make rift with chief justice public

NEW DELHI (AFP) – Four Indian Supreme Court judges took the unprecedented step of publicly criticising the chief justice on Friday, warning a lack of impartiality could imperil the world s largest democracy.

The judges said they were making their disagreement with Chief Justice Dipak Misra public after private talks failed to address what they said were serious problems with the running of India s highest court.

They gave no specific details at a hastily arranged press conference.

But in a letter released to the media they said the criticisms related to an alleged lack of transparency in the selection of judges to try cases, calling it a cause for “serious concern”.

“The administration of the SC is not in order and many things which are less than desirable have happened in last few months,” Justice Jasti Chelameswar, one of the four judges, told reporters.

“Democracy will not survive if judiciary is not impartial,” he said.

In the letter to Chief Justice Misra, the judges said they would not divulge details of their concerns to avoid embarrassing the institution.

But one of the four said their concerns related to a case involving the death of a lower court judge, B.H. Loya, in 2014 days before he was to deliver a final verdict in the case of a senior ruling party politician accused of ordering a murder.

Loya was said to have died of natural causes but the Supreme Court is hearing a petition demanding an investigation into allegations he was murdered.

Misra, who only took over as chief justice in September, did not respond to calls for comment on the allegations. Experts said it was unprecedented for a chief justice to face public criticism from judges.

In the letter, the judges said there were instances of cases with “far-reaching consequences for the nation” being selectively assigned by the chief justice.

They did not cite any specific cases. But Misra faced criticism in November when he overturned an order to recuse him from hearing a case involving alleged bribery by a medical college.

The bribes were allegedly paid to a high court judge to influence a Supreme Court case that Misra was hearing, sparking concerns over a conflict of interest.

India s Supreme Court has huge influence in India as it wields constitutional powers and in the past has revoked laws passed by the parliament that it considered infringed citizens rights.

Last year it upheld the fundamental right to privacy of citizens despite government opposition.

It has currently 25 judges with six vacancies, with more than 50,000 cases pending before it.

There was a mixed reaction from the judiciary, with former Supreme Court judge R.S. Sodhi saying the judges behaviour was “immature and childish”.

Many were supportive, among them Prashant Bhushan, a Supreme Court lawyer and opposition politician.

“They are doing a service to the nation by letting the country know that the chief justice is abusing and misusing his power as the master of roster to assign cases to particular benches, to junior judges to achieve a predetermined outcome,” he said.

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