2 judges cleared for Supreme Court posts amid disquiet
The President has cleared the names of two judges for elevation to the Supreme Court, which was preceded by expressions of anguish by the Bar Council of India as well as other quarters and articulation of proposals for protests such as dharna.
Justice Sanjiv Khanna of Delhi High Court and Karnataka Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari are the two judges whose promotion has been cleared by President Ram Nath Kovind.
Complaints have been aired that as many as 32 judges senior to Justice Khanna had been overlooked. The choice of Justice Maheshwari drew criticism because of an earlier controversy over Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s direct interaction with him regarding a probe against a senior judge in Karnataka.
Although multiple opinions about the choice of judges are not new, the latest furore coincides with a blizzard of allegations that institution after institution is being undermined by one controversy or the other.
In March last year, then collegium member Justice J. Chelameswar had objected to Justice Maheshwari directly communicating with the law ministry, bypassing then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. Justice Maheshwari’s name was overlooked in November last year when his name figured in the zone of consideration for elevation to the top court.
No one has questioned the credentials of Justice Khanna, the nephew of Justice H.R. Khanna who was overlooked for Chief Justice by the Indira Gandhi government during the Emergency.
But a former Delhi High Court judge had written to the President that the Supreme Court collegium’s recommendation to pick
Justice Khanna amounted to casting aspersions on the merit of those overlooked. Other judicial sources have said experience alone cannot be the criterion.
At a meeting of the five-member collegium in December last year, the names of Delhi Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Rajasthan Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog had been considered. But the collegium of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Madan B. Lokur, A.K. Sikri, S.A. Bobde and N.V. Ramana had not taken the final decision, sources said.
Justice Lokur had superannuated during the Christmas vacation. The reconstituted collegium, with the induction of Justice Arun Mishra as the fifth member, decided on January 10 to elevate Justices Khanna and Maheshwari.
Before the government notified the President’s clearance, the Bar Council of India, which regulates the professional conduct of advocates in the country, criticised the collegium’s January 10 decision.
BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra said in a statement that the January decision was “unjust and improper”.
The BCI said the “revocation” regarding Justices Nandrajog and Menon “is viewed as whimsical and arbitrary”. “They are men of integrity and judicial competence. Nobody can raise a finger against these judges on any ground. The decision of 10th January, 2019, will certainly lead to humiliation and demoralisation of such judges and also of several other deserving senior judges and chief justices of high courts.”
The council, in its statement before the Centre’s clearance, said several state bar councils and other bar associations were pressing the apex body of advocates to “agitate the matter” before the government.
“The Bar Council of India is hard-pressed to raise these issues. Today, the Bar Council of Delhi has also taken resolution against the decision of the collegium. Several state Bar councils, high court Bar associations and other Bar associations of the country have written to us and are pressing the apex body of advocates to raise this issue and to agitate the matter before the government as well as before the collegium judges. Most of the councils and associations have even proposed to sit on dharna and/or to organise some nation-wide protest on this serious issue,” the statement said.
The BCI said it had no grievance against Justice Khanna but questioned the hurry to elevate him, ignoring the merit and seniority of others.
Told about the ministry’s notification, BCI chairman Mishra told The Telegraph: “See the hurry… it proves many things.”