Since the retirement of two Muslim judges this year, the Supreme Court has been functioning without a judge from the community. This is the first time in 11 years, and only the second instance in nearly three decades, that the SC has been without a Muslim judge.
The last time a Muslim was appointed to the SC bench was in 2012. Justice M Y Eqbal and Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, elevated respectively in December and April that year, retired this year — Eqbal on February 2 and Kalifulla on July 22. The wait for the next Muslim judge could be prolonged due to the ongoing tussle between the Supreme Court and the government over the procedure for appointment of judges.
At present two high courts have Muslim chief justices — Bihar’s CJ Iqbal Ahmed Ansari, a resident of Assam, retires next October while Himachal’s CJ Mansoor Ahmad Mir, a resident of J&K, retires in April 2017.
A high court judge retires at 62, a Supreme Court judge at 65. The SC has a maximum strength of 31 judges and currently has 28. Four more judges will retire this year — Justice V Gopala Gowda and Justice Chockalingam Nagappan in October, followed by Justice Shiva Kirti Singh and Justice Anil R Dave in November.
Former Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan expressed concern that the Supreme Court does not have a Muslim judge. “Hope it gets a Muslim judge soon,” he told The Indian Express. “It’s not a question of their rights being denied, it’s a question of proper representation of all religions, castes and regions at the apex court. In many countries, special provisions are made to ensure the proper representation of all regions, religions and communities at the national court.”
Of the 196 retired and 28 present justices and chief justices that have served in the Supreme Court, 17 or 7.5 per cent have been Muslims. Of these, four rose to become CJI — M Hidayatullah, M Hameedullah Beg, A M Ahmadi and Altamas Kabir. The first woman judge of the Supreme Court was a Muslim: Justice M Fathima Beevi, who served from October 6, 1989, to April 29, 1992.
The last time when the Supreme Court did not have a Muslim judge stretched to nearly 2½ years, from April 2003 to September 2005, the longest such stretch and the only one since December 1988. After Justice S S M Quadri retired on April 4, 2003, Justice Altamas Kabir was appointed on September 9, 2005.
This is in contrast to a four-month period from December 2012 to April 2013, when the apex court had as many as four Muslim Judges: CJI Altamas Kabir, Justice Aftab Alam, Justice Eqbal and Justice Kalifulla.