After sitting on the recommendation made by the Supreme Court collegium to transfer one High Court chief justice and two High Court judges, the Narendra Modi government has quietly sent back the recommendations with regard to two High Court judges to Chief Justice of India J S Khehar for reconsideration by the collegium. In another development, the SC collegium’s move to transfer Tripura HC Chief Justice T Vaiphei to Hyderabad HC as CJ has also run into rough weather with Chief Justice Vaiphei expressing his disinclination to move to Hyderabad over language concerns. He is learnt to have told the collegium that since he is from the North-East, he wants to serve in the region. He was appointed CJ of Tripura HC last September 21. The SC collegium is learnt to have decided to take back its recommendation about him since a judge can’t be transferred twice without his consent.
The transfer of Uttarakhand High Chief Justice K M Joseph as Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana High Court; Justice Valmiki Mehta of the Delhi High Court to the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana High Court and Justice M R Shah of the Gujarat High Court to the Madhya Pradesh High Court was recommended separately by the Supreme Court collegium early last year but the Centre sat on the files without offering any explanation. The reluctance of the government to process the transfer recommendations became a major bone of contention between the higher judiciary under previous CJI T S Thakur and the Modi government with the Supreme Court questioning the government inaction on numerous occasions.
Sources said the government reached out to CJ Thakur several times to get the collegium to rescind the transfer recommendations but he refused to play along. In fact, during the hearing of a petition, a bench headed by then CJI Thakur, in August last, had threatened to withdraw judicial work from Justice Mehta and Justice Shah if the transfer of these judges was not given effect to. Just before he demitted office, a bench headed by CJI Thakur had directed the Centre to file a status report with detailed reasons in two weeks as to why the transfer orders had not been issued. The file containing the recommendation with regard to Chief Justice Joseph is still pending with the Centre even as the Centre has shown no inclination to process it.
Sources told The Indian Express that senior government functionaries have indicated to the Supreme Court that the government is not inclined to process the recommendations as sought by the earlier collegium. There are indications that the Supreme Court collegium may transfer Justice Mehta to a court nearer Delhi. Justice Mehta is related through his son’s marriage to a senior Supreme Court Judge Ranjan Gogoi, who is in line to become CJI in 2018. As for Justice Shah, currently the seniormost Judge of the Gujarat HC after the CJ, the government feels that he should continue there until the time he is appointed CJ of a HC, which, if seniority if followed, could take at least one more year since there is at least one judge from the same high court senior to him.
This opinion, however, has not been put on file so far. In the case of CJ Joseph, who headed the Uttarakhand HC bench which struck down the Modi government’s move to impose President’s Rule in the state last year, the government is not ready to issue his transfer orders. CJ Joseph had sought his transfer from the hill-state on health grounds. With CJ Vaiphei not keen to go to Hyderabad, the transfer of CJ Joseph can still be effected.