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Grave issue, calls for probe: Rahul

Rahul Gandhi at the press meet. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi said on Friday that the statements made by Supreme Court judges about democracy being under threat was a grave issue that needed to be seriously looked into.

After a meeting of top Congress leaders to discuss the "unprecedented development" of four judges coming out with serious questions about the administration of the Supreme Court, Rahul told a news conference: "This is a serious matter. We trust our legal system and the Supreme Court. The judges have raised extremely important questions and these issues need to be looked into."

He added: "The Congress has made a statement. The judges have talked about the threat to democracy. They have also referred to the Judge Loya case. This needs to be investigated and looked into at the highest level of the Supreme Court."

The Congress had so far avoided taking a firm stand on the demand for a probe into the death of Justice B.H. Loya. Justice Loya had died at a time he was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case in which BJP chief Amit Shah was an accused.

The Congress said in a statement: "The observations made by the honourable judges and the issues raised by them in the press conference and in the letter are extremely disturbing and have far-reaching consequences for the values that we hold sacred: safeguarding democracy and preserving the independence of the judiciary."

The statement added: "The judges have specifically highlighted two issues: (1) The long silence of the Government of India to the memorandum of procedure that was finalised by the Supreme Court and (2) the assignment of cases in the Supreme Court to what is described as 'selectively to the benches of their preference without any rational basis for such assignment'.

"In answer to a question from the media, the honourable judges referred to the PIL concerning the death of Judge Loya, which the family of Judge Loya believes was under suspicious circumstances."

Claiming that the Congress was deeply perturbed by the developments, the statement said: "The Congress earnestly appeals that the full court of the Supreme Court should take up the issues raised by the four honourable judges and find solutions that are consistent with the traditions and conventions of the judiciary pointed out by the four honourable judges and that will preserve the independence of the judiciary.

"In the PIL concerning the death of Judge Loya, we believe that the matter must be entrusted to the senior-most judges of the Supreme Court who should ensure that under their supervision there is a thorough and impartial investigation of the case by an independent SIT."

The Congress suggested that established conventions and traditions of the courts must be followed while assigning cases and that "selective assignment" must be stopped immediately.

"Cases that have far-reaching implications to society and governance must be heard, in accordance with well-established conventions, by the senior-most judges of the Supreme Court," the statement said.

Senior Congress leaders believe serious issues are involved and a "strategic shifting of cases" to selective benches means a direct assault on the independence of the judiciary.

Although some leaders contested the perception that the episode would explode and create further complications, they admitted that the unseemly developments would create a negative perception of both the government and the judiciary.

One leader said: "There is no dispute that the working of the court will remain under the shadow of this development for a long time. Even if a resolution is found, relations between fellow judges can't become normal. While even genuine decisions by the Chief Justice of India will be viewed with suspicion, people will also begin to talk about every single institution coming under stress under the Modi government."

Lawyer Abhishek Singhvi, who could not attend the meeting called by Rahul as he was in Mumbai, expressed his opinion through a series of tweets.

"The crux of the allegation is subject matter and bench allocation which in turn raises cardinal creed of independence of justice. It reflects badly on sensitive government cases. Normally presser (news conference) can never be the mode for judiciary. But extraordinary events - and bad/motivated selection of benches would qualify as one such issue - sometimes justify extraordinary means and modes," Singhvi tweeted.

Singhvi added: "Does this not only raise a major issue of judicial independence but also one impinging directly on corridors of power, from where eloquent silence is all that we are getting! Which were these cases and whom does it benefit? Bench organisational issues do need immediate redressal, else the Supreme Court could go up in flames!"

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