The Supreme Court collegium has recommended elevation of three High Court Chief Justices and a senior lawyer to the apex court, the first such recommendation in over a year. The last recommendation was made before the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act — which was struck down by a Supreme Court bench on October 16 last year — came into force.
Sources said the collegium headed by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur, which met on Monday, has recommended the elevation of Chief Justice A M Khanwilkar of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud of the Allahabad High Court and Chief Justice Ashok Bhushan of the Kerala High Court to the Supreme Court. The collegium is also learnt to have recommended the appointment of former Additional Solicitor General and senior advocate L Nageswara Rao as a Supreme Court judge.
It also recommended transfer of Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K M Joseph, who recently delivered the strongly-worded judgment quashing President’s Rule in the state, to the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. News of his transfer evoked a strong reaction in legal and other circles, with senior advocate Indira Jaising putting out a series of tweets questioning the collegium’s move.
“Death of independence of judiciary. Justice Mathew (sic) who authored the Uttaranchal judgement transferred to AP, what is the explanation for this? Was our faith in the judiciary misplaced? Why are judges who write judgements against the government at the Centre being transferred? First Justice Shakdar (Shakdher) who authored the Priya Pillai judgement was transferred, then Justice Mathew who wrote the Uttaranchal judgement,” tweeted Jaising.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also joined in. Replying to one of Jaising’s tweets, he tweeted, “This raises serious questions ab(ou)t independence of judiciary.”
The apex court’s current strength of judges is 25, against the sanctioned strength of 31. With the elevation of three High Court Chief Justices and Rao the strength will go upto 29. However, five more judges are retiring by the end of the year — Justice A R Dave (November 18), Justice F M I Kalifulla (July 22), Justice V Gopala Gowda (October 5), Justice Shiva Kirti Singh (November 12) and Justice C Nagappan (October 3).
If both Chief Justice Khanwilkar and Chief Justice Chandrachud are appointed, the Bombay bar will be represented by five judges in the apex court, the others being Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, Justice Rohinton Nariman and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit. Both Justice Nariman and Justice Lalit were top lawyers in the Supreme Court before being elevated.
While making the recommendations, the collegium seems to have overlooked seniority and also missed an opportunity to give proper represenation to other high courts. While there is no fixed criteria for elevating high court chief justices to the apex court, the endeavour so far has been to give adequate representation to different high courts and ensure representation of different sections of society, including women. Currently, there is only one lady Judge in the Supreme Court.
Among the new recommendations, CJ Chandrachud can go on to become CJI for a two-year term.
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