Three days after the Supreme Court Collegium declined to reconsider its decision to transfer her to the Meghalaya High Court, Chief Justice Vijaya K Tahilramani of the Madras High Court, currently placed at the top in the all-India seniority list of High Court judges, resigned Friday. Sources told The Indian Express that Justice Tahilramani put in her papers Friday evening. Chief Justice of Madras High Court since August 2018, she was due to retire in October 2020.
Should the resignation be accepted, then only one High Court will be headed by a woman judge — Chief Justice Gita Mittal of Jammu and Kashmir High Court. Although High Court judges have resigned in the past over allegations or for other reasons, a resignation over differences with the Collegium is rare.
In 2017, Justice Jayant Patel, a judge of Karnataka High Court, resigned after the Collegium transferred him to the Allahabad High Court. Then the second most senior judge in the Karnataka High Court, he did not cite any reason for his resignation. As a judge of the Gujarat High Court, he had ordered a CBI probe into the Ishrat Jahan alleged fake encounter case.
On August 28, the Collegium recommended that Justice Tahilramani be transferred to the Meghalaya High Court “in the interest of better administration of justice”. The same day, the Collegium transferred Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice A K Mittal to the Madras High Court as Chief Justice, also “in the interest of better administration of justice”. The resolution did not disclose any other reason for the transfer.
Led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, the Collegium comprises Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana, Arun Mishra and Rohinton F Nariman. When Justice Tahilramani was asked to respond as per the Memorandum of Procedure, she sent a representation to the Collegium on September 2, requesting reconsideration of her transfer.
But on September 3, the Collegium stood by its decision. “The Collegium has carefully gone through the… representation and taken into consideration all relevant factors. On reconsideration, the Collegium is of the considered view that it is not possible to accede to her request. The Collegium, accordingly, reiterates its recommendation dated 28th August, 2019 for transfer of Mrs Justice V K Tahilramani to Meghalaya High Court,” its resolution stated. While the Madras High Court has a sanctioned strength of 75 judges, three judges make the Meghalaya High Court. Currently, it has only two judges — Chief Justice A K Mittal and Justice Hamarsan Singh Thangkhiew.
Prior to her appointment as Chief Justice of Madras High Court in August 2018, Justice Tahilramani had been Acting Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court thrice since 2015. Before being appointed a judge of Bombay High Court in 2001, Tahilramani was a government pleader and public prosecutor for the Maharashtra government.
Her landmark rulings include the order recognising abortion rights of female prisoners and the verdict upholding life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case of the post-Godhra riots.