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Hunt to fill Gopal’s slot

- Collegium considers Lalit for apex court judge

New Delhi, June 30: The Supreme Court collegium has reportedly decided not to press for the appointment of Gopal Subramanium as an apex court judge, days after the senior counsel opted out of a shortlist accusing the government of scuttling his promotion.

While the former solicitor-general refused to comment despite repeated requests from The Telegraph, it is learnt that the collegium is in the process of recommending the name of another senior counsel, U.U. Lalit, for the fourth judge to be elevated.

Chief Justice of India (CJI) R.M. Lodha couldn’t be reached either.

Subramanium had been empanelled with three others for appointment as Supreme Court judges by a collegium headed by Justice Lodha. The others included Calcutta High Court Chief Justice Arun Kumar Mishra, Orissa High Court Chief Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and eminent lawyer Rohinton F. Nariman.

The government cleared the names of the others but rejected that of Subramanium on the ground that there were certain adverse findings. Subramanium, who was the Supreme Court’s adviser in a fake encounter case in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s closest aide Amit Shah is an accused, had, in turn, accused the NDA government of being vindictive.

Last week, the senior counsel withdrew himself from the shortlist, saying “the government has a problem with my independence”. In a letter to Justice Lodha, he alleged that there was a “very carefully orchestrated drama” to scuttle his promotion.

Informed sources said the collegium could still have gone ahead and appointed Subramanium, but it was the eminent lawyer who precipitated matters by withdrawing his consent for elevation. “Had he not done so, he could have still been elevated as it is the decision of the collegium which has primacy in the appointment of judges and not the executive,” said a source.

With Subramanium out of the race, the CJI had sought the consent of additional solicitor-general L. Nageswara Rao for his elevation as an apex court judge. But Nageswara Rao, too, expressed his inability to take up the post. It was then offered to Lalit, who has agreed to the elevation.

The collegium also considered another senior counsel, Arvind Datar, but is yet to recommend his name.

The names of Nariman and Subramanium had been doing the rounds since 2011. They were considered by earlier collegiums headed by previous CJIs K.G. Balakrishnan, S.H. Kapadia, Altamas Kabir and P. Sathasivam.

Normally chief justices and judges from the high court who are past 60 are elevated to the apex court. Their retirement age is 65.

Had he been elevated, Subramanium, who is 56, would have eventually become the CJI in October 2022.