At a time when there is disquiet among a section of judges of the Supreme Court over its Collegium’s January 10 resolution that dropped names of two High Court Chief Justices picked for elevation to the apex court a month ago and recommended instead two new names, at least four retired senior judges have reacted sharply to the changes.
One of the four, Justice Kailash Gambhir, a former judge of Delhi High Court, has written to President Ram Nath Kovind, saying the Collegium resolution, especially on elevating Justice Sanjeev Khanna, is “appalling and outrageous” that such an “earth-shattering decision has been taken to supersede as many as 32 judges, which include many Chief Justices, casting aspersions on their intellect, merit and integrity”.
He has asked the President to ensure that the “credibility and independence of the judiciary” is “preserved and another historical blunder… not committed”.
The change in resolution stopped the elevation of Justice Pradeep Nandrajog, Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court, and Justice Rajendra Menon, Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, who had been recommended for the Supreme Court by the Collegium on December 12.
On January 10, the new Collegium — after Justice Madan Lokur retired — held its first meeting and decided instead to elevate Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court, and Justice Sanjeev Khanna of Delhi High Court.
On Tuesday, Justice J Chelameswar, at whose official residence four Collegium judges, including current Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, addressed the press a year ago on the administration of the Supreme Court under the then CJI Justice Dipak Misra, indicated that nothing had changed.
Justice Chelameswar told The Indian Express; “This is exactly why I refused to attend the Collegium meetings in 2016. I was told by legal luminaries then that I should resign and then speak. Now, I have retired, so should I speak?”
Former Chief Justice of India R M Lodha expressed surprise over the manner in which the Collegium, as an institution, was being impaired.
“The Collegium is an institution, it must work as one. Decisions taken by a Collegium must be taken to their logical conclusion. Only one judge had retired, if the process of consultation was not completed, it should have been. Why reverse the decision fully and not tell anyone? The Collegium must work transparently, as it is now put on the website. The reasons must be complete.”
“It is strange that Justice Maheswari is recommended six weeks after being superseded. Justice Nandrajog, then picked, is now dropped. If consultations were the problem, it should have been done fully,” Justice Lodha said.
Justice A P Shah, a former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, said he was “disappointed at the way” in which the Collegium is being administered. “What has happened in this instance shows that the Collegium system continues to be opaque, secretive and unaccountable. The judges deciding the NJAC case spoke of reforms, what happened to that? There are no reforms, and no move to change anything,” he said.
“What happened between December and January? Only one Judge in the Collegium changed. Now this is routine in Collegium, such changes will take place. Decisions taken by one Collegium cannot arbitrarily be overturned like this, with no explanation. I have worked with Justice Nandrajog and he is a very fine judge, as are others superseded. Why has the decision on Justice Menon been reversed is also a mystery. This will have a very demoralising effect on the system,” he said.
Justice Gambhir, in his letter to the President, said Justice Khanna is the nephew of late Justice H R Khanna who was superseded for giving a dissenting verdict during the Emergency by not supporting the “the majority voice of four senior most judges who went on to compromise the life and liberty of citizens”.
“Justice Khanna resigned so as to give a slap on the face of all those votary of playing with the independence of the judiciary and to respect the seniority of judges. Many term the supersession of Justice H R Khanna as a black day in the history of the Indian judiciary,” the letter said, adding “it will be another black day when there will be supersession of 32 judges who are senior to Justice Sanjeev Khanna”.
“It is not far long ago that Hon’ble Justice Gogoi was one of the four judges of the Supreme Court who held an unprecedented press conference to flag some of the pressing problems they faced with the then Chief Justice of India. While addressing the media, it was said that ‘unless this institution is preserved, democracy will not survive in this country’. It was also said that ‘democracy will not survive without the judiciary’. I humbly urge your Excellency to kindly ponder…,” he wrote to the President.