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Frown on executive

- Chief Justice speaks out on Gopal row

New Delhi, July 1: Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha today made public his displeasure at the way the executive handled the process to select judges to the Supreme Court.

“The segregation of Mr Gopal Subramanium’s name was done unilaterally by the executive without my knowledge and concurrence, which was not proper,” Justice Lodha said today at a gathering of judges and advocates.

Reports that the government had objected to the choice had prompted Subramanium, who was solicitor-general when the UPA was in power and who had advised the apex court in a fake encounter case in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s closest aide Amit Shah is an accused, to withdraw his consent to accept the judge’s post.

Justice Lodha, who also frowned upon the decision by Subramanium to go public on the issue, said he would not continue in office even for a moment if the independence of the judiciary had been compromised.

“This is one subject which is non-negotiable. At no cost the independence of the judiciary will be allowed to be compromised. I will not hold my office, if I feel that the independence of the institution of judiciary has been compromised,” Justice Lodha said.

“I failed to understand that the appointment to a high constitutional position has been dealt with in a casual manner,” he added.

In his letter to the Chief Justice, Subramanium had said: “I am, however, unable to dispel the sense of unease that the judiciary has failed to assert its independence by respecting likes and dislikes of the executive.”

The Chief Justice’s comments were made at a farewell event organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) for Justice B.S. Chauhan who demitted office after a five-year stint in the Supreme Court.

The Chief Justice said the collegium would have asked the government to reconsider its decision had Subramanium not withdrawn his letter of consent.

Justice Lodha said he spoke to Subramanium on June 24 while the Chief Justice was in Russia and told him that he would take the matter forward on his return to India on June 28.

However, Justice Lodha said, he was shocked and disappointed to know that Subramanium had written a letter to him and made it public. “The judiciary cannot react to media reports,” the CJI said.

Listing the chronology of the events, Justice Lodha said that on his return to India on June 28, he examined the file from the central government that returned the proposal and sought reconsideration on Subramanium.

“I called Mr Subramanium to my residence and had a talk with him for 75 minutes. I requested him to withdraw his June 25 letter (rescinding his consent for judgeship) so that I could take up the matter with other collegium judges for reconsideration. Mr Subramanium said he would respond the next day. On June 29, I received a six-line letter from him reiterating his stand to withdraw his consent. In view of this, the proposal (that recommended his name) cannot be reconsidered.

“I discussed the issue with the members of the collegium and two future CJIs and felt there was no point in pursuing the matter further,” Justice Lodha said.


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