Justice Jasti Chelameswar: The Supreme Court's very own 'rebel'

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 12, 2018 17:15 hrs
Justice Chelameshwar

New Delhi: Four Supreme Court judges on Friday said the administration of the apex court is "sometimes not in order" and many "less than desirable things" have taken place.

In an unprecedented move, Justices Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, led by Justice J Chelameswar, the second senior-most judge in the Supreme Court, directed the presser.

The four judges who raised the banner of revolt

Jasti Chelameswar, a graduate in Science (Physics) at the Madras Loyola College and Law from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, in 1976, is most known for his rebellious critique of the collegium system, through which he was appointed, has shaped the discourse on judicial accountability.

Chelameswar served as the Additional Judge of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh. Later, he became the Chief Justice of Guwahati High Court in 2007. He was later transferred as the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court and was elevated as a Judge, Supreme Court of India in October 2011.

According to an Op-Ed in The Economic Times, "Chelameswar, once a government pleader, was appointed additional judge in the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 1997. He has been chief justice of both the Guwahati and Kerala high courts where he is perceived as having done exemplary work on the green benches there. He was made a Supreme Court judge in 2011 after an unexplained delay. This denied him the chance to be chief justice of India. He has delivered several landmark judgements while in the top court"

In a landmark judgment, a three judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Chelameswar, Sharad Arvind Bobde, and Chokkalingam Nagappan, ratified an earlier order of the Supreme Court and clarified that no Indian citizen without an Aadhaar card can be deprived of basic services and government subsidies.

Chelameswar and Rohinton Fali Nariman formed the two judge bench of the Supreme Court of India which struck down a controversial law which gave police the power to arrest anyone accused of posting emails or other electronic messages which "causes annoyance or inconvenience". The judges held Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which made such offenses punishable up to three years imprisonment, to be unconstitutional.

In their judgement the judges clarified that a distinction needs to be made between discussion, advocacy, and incitement. Any discussion, or advocacy of even an unpopular cause cannot be restricted, and it is only when such discussion or advocacy reaches the level of incitement whereby it causes public disorder or affects the security of the state can it be curbed.

In his dissenting opinion in the NJAC verdict (2015), Chelameswar had criticised the collegium system of appointing judges, which he said has become “a euphemism for nepotism” where “mediocrity or even less” is promoted and a “constitutional disorder” does not look distant.

There is more, however, to Justice Chelameswar than the law. Being a voracious reader himself, Chelameswar is a rare judge who opens his personal library to his law clerks and young lawyers. He is often seen recommending books to them.

His interest in Telugu literature and his current position has made him a familiar face in Telugu circles abroad, and he is invited by the Telugu Association of North America to speak to audiences in the United States.

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