In what could become its first major flashpoint with the higher judiciary, the Narendra Modi-led NDA government is learnt to have sent back to the collegium for reconsideration the name of former Solicitor general Gopal Subramanium as a Supreme Court judge. The government has, however, cleared the names of senior advocate Rohinton Nariman, Calcutta High Court Chief Justice Arun Mishra and Orissa High Court Chief Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel for elevation to the SC Bench.
Their files have been sent to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for issuance of warrants of appointment. Sources said the government had given some reasons also why it was not in favour of Subramanium’s appointment as judge of the apex court. If appointed, Subramanium would have gone on to become Chief Justice of India.
While Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was not available for his comments, sources in his ministry said the decision to return the former solicitor general’s name was taken by the Prime Minister after consultation with his senior Cabinet colleagues, including Prasad.
Sources said the government has decided to apprise Chief Justice of India R M Lodha about the adverse intelligence bureau report concerning the senior advocate. The government, it is learnt, also received information about the charges against Subramanium from the CBI.
It is learnt that President Pranab Mukherjee was also informed about the reasons behind the government’s unwillingness to clear Subramanium’s appointment.
When he was solicitor general, there was a controversy after it emerged that he had convened a joint meeting of the lawyer of former telecom minister A Raja, who is an accused in the 2G scam case, and CBI officers at his office to discuss strategy.
When the two CBI officers, who went for the meeting – a Special Director and a Deputy Inspector General – became aware of the presence of Raja’s lawyer in the office, they returned and complained to then CBI Director Ashwani Kumar. Subramanium’s name reportedly also figures in one of the conversations taped by the Income Tax Department involving controversial public relations executive Niira Radia.
As per the settled law, in case the collegium reiterates its recommendation then the government will have no choice but to clear the name. “But, the government has the option to sit on the file indefinitely,” pointed out a senior government functionary.
The collegium had recommended four names, including Subramanium’s, to the government in May for appointment as judges of the Supreme Court. It was the first time in over 15 years that the collegium recommended names of two lawyers to be appointed directly to the Bench. Both Subramanium and Nariman are designated senior advocates and were solicitor generals in the outgoing UPA-2 regime.
An Additional Solicitor General from 2005 to 2009 and later Solicitor General up to 2011, Subramanium was lead counsel for CBI in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack case that led to Ajmal Kasab’s conviction. He was also amicus curiae in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, often taking on the then Narendra Modi government of Gujarat in court. He played a key role in getting the court to order a CBI probe into the case.