The five-member Collegium is likely to meet next Wednesday to consider the government’s decision to return the name of Justice K M Joseph, Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, for elevation to the Supreme Court.
Sources told The Indian Express that Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra decided next Wednesday as the day for the meeting of the Collegium and indicated it to other members Friday. The Supreme Court will reopen Tuesday after the weekend and Buddha Purnima Monday.
No formal agenda for the Collegium meeting has been circulated so far but it is widely expected to be about the reconsideration of Justice Joseph’s name for elevation to the Supreme Court.
Pressure has been mounting on CJI Misra to stand up to the government to preserve the independence of the judiciary, particularly in the case of Justice Joseph.
Stating that the government’s action “strikes at the very heart of the independence of the judiciary”, former CJI RM Lodha had told The Indian Express Thursday that “the Chief Justice of India, in such a situation, should immediately call a meeting of the Collegium and take up the matter with the government. If the reiteration must be done, it must happen immediately.” He had also stressed that “the Chief Justice cannot sit over the file either, indefinitely, as can’t the government”.
Earlier on Friday, CJI Misra sent a copy of Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s letter returning Justice Joseph’s name to all members of the Collegium. The letter, which was received by the CJI Thursday morning, was sent to the four senior judges after the swearing-in ceremony of Justice Indu Malhotra.
In his letter, Prasad underlined that “this proposal for reconsideration of the case of Shri Justice K M Joseph has the approval of the Hon’ble President and the Hon’ble Prime Minister” and listed reasons why his appointment “at this stage does not appear to be appropriate” — Justice Joseph is at serial number 42 in the All India High Court Judges’ Seniority List; his parent High Court of Kerala has “adequate representation in the Supreme Court”; several High Courts are “not represented in the Supreme Court at present”; and, “there is no representation of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe communities in the Supreme Court since long”.
Besides CJI Misra, Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph are members of the Collegium which recommends names for elevation of judges to the apex court. It last met on January 10 when it recommended the names of Justice K M Joseph and advocate Indu Malhotra for elevation. The Collegium had then said that Justice K M Joseph “is more deserving and suitable in all respects than other Chief Justices and senior puisne Judges of High Courts for being appointed as Judges of the Supreme Court of India”.
With such a strong unanimous recommendation in January by the same Collegium and no change of facts since then, the Collegium is expected to reiterate Justice Joseph’s name Wednesday. A reiteration by the Collegium would make it incumbent upon the government to issue a warrant for appointment of Justice Joseph to the Supreme Court.