Justice Jasti Chelameswar, the most senior judge of the Supreme Court, has said it is up to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra to “take forward” the matter of alleged government interference in appointments to higher judiciary. This follows his letter last week to all judges of the Supreme Court in which he had asked the CJI for “a full court on the judicial side” to consider the matter.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Justice Chelameswar, who was out of town, said on the phone, “I don’t want to comment on this matter at this stage. The Chief Justice was a signatory when the Collegium made the reiteration. It is up to him to take this matter forward.”
As reported by The Indian Express Thursday, Justice Chelameswar’s March 21 letter to CJI Misra was in response to a letter written earlier this month to the CJI by Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court. Justice Maheshwari had informed the CJI that in response to a letter by the Union Law Ministry, he had reopened an inquiry into certain allegations made against a judicial officer, P Krishna Bhat.
The government had been sitting on the case of Bhat’s elevation to Karnataka High Court despite reiteration of his name by the Supreme Court Collegium in April 2017. Bhat had originally been recommended by the Collegium in August 2016.
In his letter to CJI, which was copied to 22 judges of the Supreme Court, Justice Chelameswar said “for sometime, our unhappy experience has been that the government accepting our recommendations is an exception and sitting on them is the norm. ‘Inconvenient’ but able judges or judges to be are being bypassed through this route”.
In the letter, he said he “could recollect no instance from the past of the executive bypassing the Supreme Court, more particularly while its recommendations are pending, and asking the High Court, as if it were an inter-departmental matter, to look into the allegations already falsified and conclusively rejected by us. Asking the High Court to reevaluate our recommendation in this matter has to be deemed improper and contumacious.”
In Bhat’s case, the Law Ministry did not issue a warrant for his appointment after the Collegium’s recommendation in August 2016 because of allegations of “atrocities and abuse of power” made against him by a subordinate officer, M S Shashikala. After an inquiry, Justice S K Mukherjee, the then Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court, informed the CJI on November 14, 2016 that the allegations levelled against Bhat were “incorrect and concocted”.
On April 6, 2017, Bhat’s name was reiterated by the Collegium — it comprised then CJI J S Khehar, Justices Misra and Chelameswar — to the Law Ministry. As per the judgment in the Second Judges Case, once the Collegium reiterates a name, it is incumbent upon the Law Ministry to issue warrants for appointment of the person concerned. But the government did not issue the warrant for Bhat and in December 2017, it directly forwarded a fresh complaint by Shashikala to Karnataka High Court, asking it “to look into the issue”. Shashikala had alleged that Bhat had “managed” her earlier complaint.
Justice Maheshwari then convened a meeting of the Administrative Committee No. 1 on March 4 to reinvestigate the issue. On March 12, he informed CJI Misra about it through a letter which in turn was circulated to Justices Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi. Justice Chelameswar’s letter on March 21 demanding a full court was written in response to the letter by Justice Maheshwari.