Shortly after the sudden, unexplained reversal of the Supreme Court Collegium’s decisions on judicial appointments set off disquiet in the legal fraternity, there was a move in the Collegium to transfer high-profile Justice S Muralidhar out of Delhi High Court, sources have confirmed to The Indian Express.
That move has been stalled, as of now, after members of the Collegium headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi reportedly advised against it. One of them, Justice M B Lokur, retired recently, and the other, Justice A K Sikri, is due to retire in March. Sources said the proposal could be revived later.
Sources told The Indian Express that the move to transfer Justice Muralidhar was discussed twice in the Collegium for postings and transfers in High Courts, in December and in January.
Known for his bold pronouncements on communal violence and personal liberty, Justice Muralidhar, especially in 2018, authored many judgments which have been widely discussed.
These include the one concerning imprisonment of intellectuals and activists, including Gautam Navlakha, for alleged Maoist links. He delivered the Hashimpura verdict convicting members of UP PAC in the 1986 mass killings. It was a two-judge bench led by him that convicted former Congress MP Sajjan Kumar in a case related to the Sikh riots, in December 2018. The judgment overturned the acquittals and passed stringent comments on tardy prosecution.
When the first bid to transfer Justice Muralidhar was made in December, a judge in the Collegium from the Delhi High Court is said to have persuaded the CJI to not insist on it. In the second instance, a bid was made again, when the Collegium changed, after the retirement of Justice Lokur.
Late last year, Justice Muralidhar was attacked by RSS ideologue, chartered accountant and now independent Director of RBI, S Gurumurthy. Contempt proceedings were initiated against Gurumurthy by the Delhi High Court and there was an in-chamber hearing on December 11. The first move to transfer Justice Muralidhar came shortly after that.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court Collegium resolution overturned decisions taken by it in December — of elevating two High Court Chief Justices to the apex court.
This change in resolution stopped the elevation of Justice Pradeep Nandrajog, Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court, and Justice Rajendra Menon, Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, who had been recommended for the Supreme Court by the Collegium on December 12.
The Supreme Court, which has a new Collegium that held its first meeting on January 10, decided instead to elevate Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court, and Justice Sanjeev Khanna, a judge of Delhi High Court.