Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud on Monday said he was a “little reluctant” to join the Bombay High Court Bench as his appointment as High Court judge “took almost three years to come” and a close family member was critically ill at the time.
Chief Justice Chandrachud said he had even walked up to the then Bombay High Court Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal for permission to drop out and take his freedom back, but the latter had told him to wait for a “few months”.
“When I was about to become a judge of the Bombay High Court and a little reluctant to do that… In fact, I had walked up to Chief Justice Sabharwal to tell him that, well, it had taken almost three years for my appointment to come. My late former wife was suffering from cancer and we did not know which way we were going. I told him ‘would you give me the liberty to now take my own freedom and leave the course of action which you have chalked out for me’. He said to wait a few months,” Chief Justice Chandrachud recollected at a felicitation organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association. He was judge of the Bombay High Court from March 29, 2000.
The top judge’s words come a few days after the Supreme Court criticised the Centre for inexplicably withholding names recommended by the Collegium.
“It is a challenge to persuade persons of eminence to be invited to the Bench. On top of that if the process takes ages, there is a further discouragement to them to accept the invitation and this is undoubtedly weighing with the members of the Bar in accepting the invitation to adorn the Bench,” a Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul had observed in an order on Friday.
‘Chief problem of today’
Chief Justice Chandrachud said judicial vacancies were the “chief problem of today”. He said 25% of the posts in district judiciary and 30% of the sanctioned strength of judges in the State judiciary were vacant. The Supreme Court has seven vacancies.
The CJI, who has a comparatively long tenure of two years, said “I am not here to do miracles. Challenges are high and perhaps expectations are great”. He said that as Chief Justice he held the office in trust for society and citizens.
He shared his “deep belief” that a Chief Justice was first and foremost a judge. “You can never forget the fact that you are a judge… A Chief Justice is respected or not respected based on the fact whether or not you do your basic function as a judge,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.
He said reforms like transparent listing of cases and use of technology, in order to remove the element of human interface, needed to be institutionalised in the Supreme Court and should not depend on who the Chief Justice was.
The CJI said superior court judges needed to change their mindset towards district judiciary, which iwas the cornerstone of the judicial institution. “We have fostered a culture of subordination. We call our district judiciary ‘subordinate judiciary’. We have to move towards a more modern judiciary, an equal judiciary,” the Chief Justice said.
Justice Chandrachud, who said a Chief Justice was only first among equals, said many of his colleagues were of the opinion that the Supreme Court did not traditionally tap the collective experiences and wisdom of all the members of its judiciary. He referred to how the judiciary in the Supreme Court was a healthy mix of judges who had started out in the district judiciary and those who had the freshness of coming directly from the Bar to the Bench.
“Each of my colleagues with whom I collaborate everyday are as good or better than me. Their experiences are as good or better than mine. I would be looking to my colleagues to give me the weight of their experience. I would depend more on my colleagues, draw out their experiences which would contribute in strengthening the institution,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.