By Biswaraj Patnaik in Puri, July 30, 2017: Sometime ago, when the rumour made rounds that Justice Chelmeshwar is likely to supersede his senior Justice Dipak Misra to become the next CJI, legendary former Supreme Court Judge Justice Anang Kumar Patnaik had made it clear at a public meeting that there is no power that can stop Justice Misra from occupying the highest judicial office.

Justice Patnaik’s emphatic forecast has come true. Big-hearted, universally loved and immensely respected Justice Patnaik should have become the third Odia CJI but for the jealous senior colleagues at the collegium  whose purposeful machinations caused the irreparable damage to  Justice Patnaik’s elevation to the highest office.

But the lion of a human being that Justice Patnaik is, he took the victimisation in his stride smiling and walked of the Supreme Court in 2014 leaving behind a trail of blaze for having passed several bold judgments including the one that has cleansed electoral politics for good. Justice Patnaik is rejoicing no end that his younger brother judge from his mother state will be the CJI in less than a month.

Incidentally, the first Odia CJI Justice Ranganath Misra occupied the loftiest chair only because the incumbent CJI Justice Sabyasachi Mukherjee died of a diabetes-complicated heart attack in London on his way back from the USA after delivering a lecture there. The unfortunate judge would have served until June 1993. Justice Mishra would have retired much earlier. Bane of Mukherjee thus had turned the boon for Misra who served for only for teen months.

Justice Dipak Misra, coincidentally Ranganath’s nephew would also serve for nearly the same length of time. Much later in 2002, a Justice Gopal Ballabh Patnaik got a super bonus of a 41-day tenure of CJI by the specific benefit of age. But Justice Dipak Mishra has come up the ladder on pure merit and of course age.

Justice Misra was enrolled at the Odisha High Court Bar on 14 February 1977. After serving at the Service Tribunal for some time, he was elevated as an Additional Judge of the Orissa High Court in 1996. He got transferred the following year to the Madhya Pradesh High Court, where he became a Permanent Judge on 19 December 1997. In December of 2009, he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court and to serve there until May 2010 when he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court until his elevation to the Supreme Court on 10 October 2011.

Justice Misra became a highly rated and respected judge for passing such judgment as the ‘Own Motion vs State’ case, requiring Delhi Police to upload FIRs on their website within 24 hours of the FIRs being lodged, in order to enable the accused to file appropriate applications before the court for redressal of their grievances. Similarly, on Reservation in the promotion matter, Justice Misra and Justice Dalveer Bhandari upheld the Allahabad High Court judgement that reservation in promotions can be provided only if there is sufficient data and evidence to justify the need. The bench rejected the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to provide reservation in promotion on the ground that it failed to furnish sufficient valid data.

The most historic judgement was passed on the midnight of July 2015 at 3.25 am, where in a Justice Misra-led bench rejected the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakub Memon’s appeal to stop his execution. He received a death threat in writing, in an anonymous letter which says “irrespective of the protection you may avail, we will eliminate you.” Memon was hanged two hours later at dawn.

A three-judge bench led by Justice Misra did uphold the death sentence awarded to the four convicts of the Nirbhaya rape case on 5th May, 2017.

Interestingly, brother judge Justice Chelmeshwar was rumoured to be the next CJI for having been the lone dissenter against the collegium system, while NJAC was being debated vigorously as the best alternative.

Lately, the Indian media agencies have reported the collegiums of judges headed by Chief Justice Khehar rejected the NJAC idea altogether with the sole view to ensuring absolute national security of India.

Some interesting facts about how Supreme Court manages affairs including selection of CJI :

Supreme Court judge Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, who was elevated to the apex court on Friday from the Allahabad high court where he was the chief justice, was born on 11 November 1959.

That makes him 56 years, six months and a few days young, and young he is for a Supreme Court judge.

In judicial circles, your birthday is important.

For one, as in many other jobs too, it determines your retirement age.

Supreme Court judges all have to retire at age 65, which means that justice Chandrachud will sit on the apex court bench longer than most: until 10 November 2024.

This will also be fundamental to him being the chief justice of India (CJI) one day in an elaborate and complex system that has evolved by convention as much as not.

How it works :

The Chief Justice of India is traditionally appointed by the outgoing Chief Justice of India on the day of his (or her) retirement.

By convention, the outgoing Chief Justice of India selects the most senior then-sitting Supreme Court judge.

Seniority at the apex court is determined not by age, but by:

♦ The date a judge was appointed to the Supreme Court.

♦ If two judges are elevated to the Supreme Court on the same day, a) the one who was sworn in first as a judge would trump another; b) if both were sworn in as judges on the same day, the one with more years of high court service would ‘win’ in the seniority stakes; c) an appointment from the bench would ‘trump’ in seniority an appointee from the bar.

These tie-breakers aren’t just theoretical though—justice Ruma Pal was pipped to the Chief Justice of India’s post by justice Y.K. Sabharwal, who in 2000 was sworn in at the Supreme Court a few hours before her on the same day.

And justice A.S. Ahmadi became the Chief Justice of India in 1994 instead of justice Kuldip Singh, both appointed to the apex court on the same day in 1988, due to Singh having come from the bar, and Ahmadi therefore having been a judge for longer.

Therefore, barring early retirements, deaths, impeachments or anything else unforeseeable, the order of upcoming Chief Justices of India is basically set in stone.

Interestingly, these rules aren’t really written down anywhere but are a matter of judicial ‘convention’.

What will happen now?

When current Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur (who became the Chief Justice of India on 3 December 2015) retires on 3 January 2017, he will be succeeded by

♠ Justice J.S. Khehar, who will hold the Chief Justice of India’s office until 27 August 2017, at which point
♠ Justice Dipak Misra will take over until 2 October 2018, followed by
♠ Justice Ranjan Gogoi until 17 November 2019, followed by a longer term for
♠ Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde until 23 April 2021; he will be succeeded by
♠ Justice N.V. Ramana until 26 August 2022, after which there will be a micro-stint by
♠ Justice U.U. Lalit until 8 November 2022, at which point the reign will start of
♠ Justice Chandrachud, for just under two years, until 10 November 2024.

Many Supreme Court judges will not get a stab at CJI-ship, of course, though no fault of their own.

The other Supreme Court judges appointed with Chandrachud, for instance, will all have retired before their senior brother judge, Lalit, retires as Chief Justice of India on 8 November 2022: justice Ashok Bhushan will reach retirement on 4 July 2021, justice L. Nageswara Rao will retire on 1 September 2021, and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar on 29 July 2022.

Also most likely skipped by the birthday lottery ladder (in order of seniority) will be justices Anil R. Dave, Jasti Chelameswar, Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, Madan Bhimarao Lokur, V. Gopala Gowda, Pinaki Chandra Ghose, Kurian Joseph, Arjan Kumar Sikri, Shiva Kirti Singh, Chockalingam Nagappan, R.K. Agrawal, Arun Mishra, Adarsh Kumar Goel, Rohinton Fali Nariman, Abhay Manohar Sapre, R. Banumathi, Prafulla Chandra Pant and Amitava Roy.

But let us wish them well, thank them and remember them.

Their position may never be as visible as that of the Chief Justice of India, it may be less glorious (if you call the often thankless task of administration and people management glorious) and they may make slightly less money than the Chief Justice of India (Rs.90,000 per month base salary, as opposed to the CJI’s Rs.1 lakh per month).

But their service to the country should be as welcome and as appreciated.

Justice Deepak Mishra incidentally is the nephew of former CJI Justice Ranganath Mishra. He will serve as the boss of the Supreme Court for a long period of a little above fourteen months.

The people of Odisha have started basking in the glory Justice Deepak Mishra has earned with hard work and dedication.