CHIEF JUSTICE OF INDIA REBUTS ADVOCATE’S CRITIQUE ON CONSTITUTION BENCH MATTERS

New Delhi, 15 September 2023: In a recent exchange in the Supreme Court, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud responded strongly to Advocate Mathews J. Nedumpara’s email expressing disapproval of the prioritization of Constitutional cases over non-Constitutional ones. This confrontation shed light on the intricate relationship between the judiciary and the public’s perception of its role in addressing matters of national interest.

Advocate Nedumpara’s dissenting email, challenging the court’s choice of cases, underscores an essential aspect of a democratic legal system – the accountability of the judiciary to the public it serves. However, the Chief Justice’s response provides a valuable perspective on the intricate web of Constitutional matters and their far-reaching consequences.

The exchange transpired during a routine courtroom session, where Advocate Nedumpara appeared before a bench comprising CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra. Following the conclusion of the hearing, CJI Chandrachud brought up the matter, saying, “Mr. Nedumpara, my Secretary General has placed the email by you complaining that the Supreme Court should not be hearing Constitution bench matters because these are useless matters, and the Supreme Court should be hearing non-Constitution bench matters.”

Advocate Nedumpara, known for his forthright opinions, acknowledged sending the email and reiterated his stance that the Supreme Court should prioritize “ordinary people’s cases.” This assertion raises a critical question about the role of the judiciary in addressing issues that resonate with the masses. It is essential to strike a balance between constitutional matters and those that have a direct impact on the lives of citizens.

Chief Justice Chandrachud, in his response, illuminated the importance of Constitutional Bench matters. He emphasized that these cases often involve the interpretation of the Constitution, which serves as the cornerstone of India’s legal framework. He pointed out that even though some may perceive certain cases, like the Article 370 petition, as irrelevant, the government and petitioners involved hold a different perspective.

Furthermore, CJI Chandrachud elaborated on the broader impact of Constitution Bench matters, citing a recent case related to the livelihoods of drivers across the nation. This particular case pertained to the eligibility of individuals holding a driving license for a “light motor vehicle” to operate a “transport vehicle of light motor vehicle class” with an unladen weight not exceeding 7500 kg. The Constitution Bench deferred the hearing and urged the Union Government to explore potential resolutions through amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 and policy changes.

The Chief Justice made a crucial point that Constitution Bench matters extend beyond constitutional interpretations, influencing the social sector and the livelihoods of countless individuals. He used the example of the recent Light Motor Vehicle Driving License case to illustrate this point.

He stated, “All Constitution bench matters are not necessarily interpretations of the Constitution. If you came and sat in our court the day before yesterday, you would find that we were dealing with a matter that concerned the livelihood of hundreds and thousands of drivers all across the country. The issue was whether a person who holds a license to drive a light motor vehicle can drive a commercial vehicle.”

CJI Chandrachud urged Advocate Nedumpara to dispel the notion that the Supreme Court exclusively handles “fancy Constitution bench matters” that have no bearing on the lives of ordinary people. Referring to the light motor vehicle case, he emphasized the significant social impact of such cases, particularly on the livelihoods of small-scale drivers.

Advocate Nedumpara, however, maintained his position, expressing concerns about the court hearing public interest matters without considering the broader public’s opinions. He argued that matters of public policy should not be decided without the involvement of the public at large.

CJI Chandrachud countered this argument by citing the Article 370 case, highlighting the court’s willingness to listen to voices from the region, exemplifying its commitment to hearing the nation’s concerns.

This exchange brings to the forefront the delicate balance that the Indian judiciary must strike. While upholding the Constitution is a paramount duty, it must also remain responsive to the evolving needs and concerns of the citizens it serves. The clash of perspectives between Advocate Nedumpara and the Chief Justice underscores the ongoing debate about the role of the judiciary in shaping public policy.

In a diverse and dynamic nation like India, where a multitude of voices and interests coexist, the role of the Supreme Court becomes increasingly complex. It must interpret the Constitution while also addressing issues that significantly impact the lives of ordinary citizens. The Chief Justice’s insistence on the importance of Constitution Bench matters serves as a reminder of the judiciary’s pivotal role in upholding the nation’s legal fabric.

Ultimately, this exchange serves as a testament to the openness and transparency of India’s judicial system, where advocates and judges engage in robust discussions about the court’s priorities and responsibilities. It is a reflection of a thriving democracy where checks and balances ensure that the judiciary remains accountable to the people it serves. In this ongoing dialogue between the legal fraternity and the judiciary, the Indian legal system continues to evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs of its citizens.

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