A day after the resignation of Madras High Court Chief Justice V K Tahilramani, opinion was divided among jurists in Tamil Nadu over the Supreme Court collegium’s decision to transfer her to a much smaller Meghalaya High Court, even as Madras HC lawyers prepare to abstain work on September 10 to protest what they called an “arbitrary” decision of the collegium.
Tahilramani, who was a judge in Mumbai HC, became Madras HC Chief Justice in August 2018.
After Justice Tahilramani ostensibly disclosed her decision to resign to her colleagues at a dinner on Friday, and it was confirmed that she had sent her resignation to President Ram Nath Kovind, senior lawyer of Madras High Court R Vaigai on Saturday said that the collegium’s decision was “arbitrary, to say the least.”
The SC, she pointed out, had set some relevant factors for such transfers: “If the judge is mired in controversies, or their relatives (are) practising in the same court, or if there is a litigation against the judge, or for better administration of justice.”
Among these, she said, the first three can be “ruled out easily” in Chief Justice Tahilramani’s case. “If the fourth factor (better administration of justice) is the reason for her transfer, she was already working as the acting Chief Justice of Mumbai HC between 2017 and 2018. She was found suitable to head Madras HC by a collegium in which the current CJI was a member. When there was no controversy against her, what new factor has emerged to disturb her position now,” Vaigai asked.
But retired judge of Madras High Court, K Chandru, said, “When the Madras HC has the dubious distinction of having over 6 lakh cases pending and the decision of transfer was taken by a collegium comprising senior-most judges in the country, it has to be accepted.”
Two other senior jurists of Madras HC, who spoke to The Sunday Express on the issue on the condition of anonymity, had different opinions on collegium’s decision. While one of them agreed with the collegium’s decision and cited several reasons to justify Justice Tahilramani’s transfer, his colleague said it is easy to attribute motives and criticise the collegium’s decision since the alleged reasons about her performance as CJ for the transfer was applicable to others too, who got elevated to SC instead of facing a transfer.
Vaigai said that Justice S Manikumar of Madras HC, who is now recommended to become CJ of Kerala HC by the collegium, was junior to Justice Tahilramani. “Justice Tahilramani was not considered to head any bigger high courts, but only a smaller HC in Meghalaya with just two judges. Justice Mittal, who is to replace Justice Tahilramani in Madras HC, was considered unfit by Justice Gogoi-led collegium in January 2018 to become the CJ of Himachal Pradesh HC. His junior was later posted as Himachal CJ. Justice Mittal, with very little experience and who became a High Court Chief Justice only this year, is now being posted in Madras HC now. How can you say Justice Tahilramani’s transfer to Meghalaya was for ‘better administration of justice’,” she asked.
Meanwhile, a group of lawyers in Madras HC have decided to organise a protest on Monday against the collegium’s decision.
This will come after Punjab lawyers had expressed discontent and demanded a fair deal for Justice Mittal by giving a “better HC” than Meghalaya, and Telangana lawyers protested two days ago against the transfer of Justice P V Sanjay Kumar, the senior-most judge of the court, to Punjab and Haryana HC as a junior judge.
Criticising the protests, retired Justice Chandru said such transfers have taken place in the past as well. He took the examples of Justice Kannan Krishnanmoorthy, who was transferred to Punjab and Haryana HC and served his full term, apparently over opposition to the appointment of one more Brahmin judge in Madras HC by certain political parties when K Balakrishnan was the CJI.
Chief Justice of Manipur HC, R Sudhakar, was transferred recently from the position of CJ of a much bigger Jammu & Kashmir HC but there was no protest, Justice Chandru pointed out.
He also noted that senior judges of Madras HC have mostly been appointed only in High Courts of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, but never get appointed as CJs of Bombay or Madhya Pradesh or Kolkata HCs.
“No one explains vagaries behind this decision-making process,” he said. “Also, when judges from smaller HCs like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh were appointed as CJ of Madras HC, it was often (seen as) a quantum jump for them, as they come from a three-member HC to a 75 member High Court. When Justice Tahilramani’s transfer was made by the collegium consisting of senior-most judges, when there was no malafide attributed, when there is no involvement of government in the process, one cannot presume that Justice Tahilramani’s transfer was a victimisation,” he said.