Despite reservations expressed by the Centre, the Supreme Court Collegium has reiterated its decision to recommend Justices Aniruddha Bose and A S Bopanna as judges of the top court.
The five-member Collegium headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi also decided to recommend the names of Justices Bhushan R Gavai and Surya Kant for elevation to the Supreme Court. Should all four be elevated, the Supreme Court, currently functioning with 27 judges, will have its sanctioned strength of 31.
Justice Bose is Chief Justice of Jharkhand High Court and Justice Bopanna the Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court. Justice Surya Kant is Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court while Justice Gavai is presently a judge of Bombay High Court.
Recommending Justice Gavai’s elevation, the Collegium resolution dated May 8 said “the Supreme Court Bench will have a Judge belonging to Scheduled Caste category after about a decade”. “His recommendation”, it said, “in no way, is to be misconstrued to mean that three senior-most Judges from Bombay High Court (two of whom are serving as Chief Justices) are less suitable than Mr Justice Gavai”.
On April 12, the Collegium, also comprising Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana, Arun Mishra and R F Nariman, had cleared the names of Justices Bose and Bopanna for the Supreme Court.
In 2018 standoff, SC had its way
The Collegium’s decision to reiterate the names of two judges which the Centre wants it to reconsider has a familiar ring to it. Last year, the Centre, citing inadequate representation from other states, returned the file of then Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K M Joseph who had been recommended for elevation to the Supreme Court. The Collegium reiterated its recommendation and Justice Joseph was eventually elevated.
The Centre, however, returned the file to the Chief Justice of India for reconsideration. The Collegium, after it “carefully considered the observations made by the Department of Justice”, said it was of the view that “as laid down by the Supreme Court in its Opinion in Re: Special Reference No.1 of 1998 reported in (1998) 7 SCC 739, though inter-se seniority amongst Judges in their High Courts and their combined seniority on all-India basis should be given due weightage, merit should be the predominant consideration. The Collegium accordingly kept in mind these parameters while recommending the above two names”.
The official resolution said that “on due consideration of all the aspects mentioned in the file, the Collegium resolves to reiterate” the April 12 recommendations “especially since nothing adverse regarding competence, conduct or integrity of Mr Justices (1) Aniruddha Bose, and (2) A S Bopanna, has been pointed out”.
On Justices Gavai and Surya Kant, the resolution said that while recommending their names, “the Collegium has taken into consideration combined seniority on all-India basis of Chief Justices and senior puisne Judges of High Courts, apart from their competence, conduct and integrity”.
The Collegium, it said, “has also kept in mind the desirability of giving due representation on the Bench of the Supreme Court, as far as possible, to all the High Courts as well as to all sections of the society including those belonging to SC/ST/OBC categories, women and minorities. We are also conscious of the fact that some High Courts have remained unrepresented in the Supreme Court”.
Justice Gavai was appointed judge of the Bombay High Court on November 14, 2003 and stands at serial number 8 in the combined seniority of High Court judges on all-India basis and was at serial number 4 in the seniority of judges hailing from Bombay High Court.
Justice Surya Kant was appointed judge of the Punjab & Haryana High Court on January 9, 2004 and was elevated as Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court on October 5, 2018. He stands at serial number 11 in the combined seniority of High Court judges on all-India basis and at number 2 in the seniority of judges hailing from Punjab & Haryana HC.