Top judges - that too of the country's Supreme Court - saying "democracy is at stake" is extraordinary.

Indian judiciary plunged to its worst crisis on Friday as four seniormost judges of the SC skipped courts and came out against Chief Justice Dipak Misra by calling an unprecedented press conference to accuse him of committing a series of departures from principles "creating doubt in the body politic about the integrity of judiciary".

The judges who have rebelled against the CJI, sending shockwaves across the judiciary and polity, are Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph who noted that "things are not in order" and "many undesirable things are happening".

The first ever news conference by sitting judges of the top court underscored the widening rift in the upper echelons of the judiciary. They raised questions on alleged selective case allocation and certain judicial orders passed by the Chief Justice recently. "Members of any multi-member judicial body including this court would not arrogate to themselves the authority to deal with and pronounce upon matters which ought to be heard by appropriate benches", the judges said.

"Any departures would not only lead to unpleasant and undesirable consequences of creating doubt in the body politic about the integrity of the institution", they said. In a letter addressed to the Chief Justice of India, the four said that though he was a master of the roster, one who decides which bench will hear which case, he exercised the power arbitrarily.

"Though master of roster, he is only 'first among equals' and not a superior authority."

But, according to them, CJI Misra behaved like one. Cases having "far-reaching consequences for the nation and institution had been assigned by CJI selectively to the benches of his preferences", they alleged.

While they did not specifically state it, the judges are apparently upset about the way Justice Misra handled the plea for probe into the medical admission scam which had said the role of the CJI also needed to be probed.

The Chief Justice had quashed an order of a Justice Chelameswar-led bench setting up a five judge bench minus the CJI to decide the setting up of an SIT to probe medical seat scam. He then assigned the matter to a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra who dismissed it.

CJI Misra transferred to himself a matter related to drafting of memorandum of procedure for appointment of judges from a bench which had questioned the delay on the part of the government. The four "rebel" judges say only a five-judge bench which heard the NJAC matter could have dealt with the issue.

The petition seeking probe into "mysterious" death of Justice Loya who was hearing the politically sensitive Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case too had come to a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra. Justice Chelameswar who addressed the media accused CJI Misra of not taking any remedial measures on some of the issues which affected the functioning of the apex court that they had raised.

"This is an extraordinary event in the history of Indian judiciary. We have no pleasure doing it (calling a press conference) but we were compelled. For some time the administration of justice is not in order. Many things less than desirable has happened in the last three months. We have a responsibility to the nation to the institution that is why we are here… We have seen a lot of wise men but we don't want wise men to tell us later after 20 years that the four of us have sold our souls. We construe this as a responsibility to the nation and we have done it," Chelameswar said, flanked by the three judges.

"Several times we tried to persuade the Chief Justice towards getting things right but we failed. Democracy cannot survive like this. We met him today also but failed," he said, adding, "This is why we thought it fit to call a press conference. About a couple of months back four of us expressed our anguish in a signed copy of letter… a particular thing is being done in a particular manner. The chief responded doing something… but that only raised further questions on integrity of the institution."