In one of its last decisions before President Pranab Mukherjee granted his assent to the 121st Constitutional Amendment Bill for setting up the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), the Supreme Court collegium had recommended the transfer of Allahabad High Court Judge Justice Vineet Saran to Karnataka High Court.
It now turns out that the collegium, while doing so on November 13, ignored strongly-worded objections raised by two Supreme Court judges whose views had been sought on the transfer by Chief Justice of India H L Dattu in line with established procedure.
Sources told The Indian Express that one of them, Justice Shiva Kirti Singh, who was Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court before being elevated to the apex court, opposed the move, saying a “lobby” was at work against Justice Saran since he enjoyed a good reputation.
The other, Justice R K Agrawal, who represents the Allahabad High Court in Supreme Court, said if Justice Saran had to be shifted out, the judge next in seniority must also be transferred.
The sources added that the collegium stuck to its decision even after Justice Saran himself wrote to the CJI, requesting that he be allowed to continue in Allahabad High Court for some more time.
Justice Saran is the senior-most Judge of the Allahabad High Court after Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Imtiyaz Murtaza.
The recommendation for his transfer is now with the NDA government, which has to approach the President for a formal order. The President also has the power to return the transfer recommendation to the collegium for reconsideration.
Once the NJAC becomes functional, the SC collegium will lose the power to recommend transfers of Chief Justices and other judges of high courts.
The NJAC will be a six-member body, headed by the Chief Justice of India, that will also include the two senior-most Supreme Court judges, Union Minister of Law and Justice and two “eminent persons” nominated by another panel comprising the Prime Minister, CJI and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha or leader of the largest opposition party in the Lower House.
In the system followed so far, the view of Supreme Court judges who either belong to the High Court in question or have been posted there are taken very seriously, even if they are not actually members of the collegium.
Last year, the Supreme Court body, then headed by CJI P Sathasivam, decided against clearing the recommendation of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court collegium to appoint Neeru Goswami, a lawyer, to the Bench after senior apex court Judge Justice Tirath Singh Thakur opposed the move. The lawyer is the wife of Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami, who hails from the state.
Justice Thakur, who is expected to be the next CJI, was not a member of the collegium when he sent his views opposing the recommendation to elevate Goswami to the Bench.
Justice Saran is currently posted in the Allahabad Bench of the Allahabad High Court, and was appointed Judge of the High Court on February 14, 2002. He will be the senior-most local judge once Justice Murtaza retires on March 1. Due to his seniority, Justice Saran is also a member of the High Court collegium and is in line to be appointed as Chief Justice of a High Court in the middle of this year.