Supreme Court collegium: Re-reiteration on Calcutta judges
The Supreme Court collegium has reiterated for the second time each the names of two Bengal advocates as Calcutta High Court judges, hitting out at the Centre for repeatedly stalling the recommendations.
One of the candidates is Amitesh Banerjee, whose father, Justice (retd) U.C. Banerjee, had headed the one-man commission that ruled out any conspiracy behind the Godhra train fire that triggered the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The collegium also reiterated advocate Somasekhar Sundaresan’s elevation as a Bombay High Court judge, saying his social media posts that the government found “selectively critical” on “important policies, initiatives and directions of the government” cannot be a ground to infer that he is “highly biased”. In this context, the collegium emphasised the right to free speech.
Earlier this month, the collegium had reiterated advocate R. John Sathyan’s candidature as Madras High Court judge, rejecting objections from the Centre over his acts of sharing on social media articles critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the political establishment.
Under the memorandum of procedure that governs the appointments and transfers of Supreme Court and high court judges, the Centre is bound to clear any collegium recommendation that is reiterated even once. However, the apex court recently accused the government of sitting on even multiple reiterations.
Two resolutions passed by the collegium — made up of Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph — provided timelines and comments.
“The names of Shri Amitesh Banerjee and Shri Sakya Sen were recommended by the collegium of the Calcutta High Court on 17 December 2018. The Supreme Court collegium approved the proposal on 24 July 2019.
“After the department of justice referred back their names on 23 July 2021, the Supreme Court collegium reiterated its earlier recommendation in respect of Shri Amitesh Banerjee on 01 September 2021.”
“On 27 September 2021, the department of justice forwarded additional inputs of the IB (Intelligence Bureau) dated 24 September 2021 in respect of Shri Sakya Sen. The Supreme Court collegium reiterated its earlier recommendation on 08 October 2021 for the elevation of Shri Sakya Sen.
“The department of justice referred back the file on 25 November 2022. The inputs… do not contain any fresh material or ground.
“Moreover, after the Supreme Court collegium reiterated the proposal on 01 September 2021, it was not open to the department to repeatedly send back the same proposal which has been reiterated by the Supreme Court collegium after duly considering the objections of the government.
“In view of the above, the collegium resolves to return the file for processing the recommendations for appointment of S/Shri Amitesh Banerjee and Sakya Sen as judges of the Calcutta High Court expeditiously.”
“On 04 October 2021, the collegium of Bombay High Court inter alia recommended the name of Shri Somasekhar Sundaresan. On 16 February 2022, the Supreme Court collegium recommended… Shri Somasekhar Sundaresan for appointment as a judge of the Bombay High Court.
“On 25 November, 2022, the government sought reconsideration… (on the ground) that he has aired his views in the social media on several matters which are the subject matter of consideration before the courts.
“…The collegium is of the view that the views on social media attributed to the candidate do not furnish any foundation to infer that he is biased. The issues on which opinions have been attributed to the candidate are in the public domain and have been extensively deliberated upon in the print and electronic media.
“The manner in which the candidate has expressed his views does not justify the inference that he is a ‘highly biased opinionated person’ or that he has been ‘selectively critical on the social media on the important policies, initiatives and directions of the government’ (as indicated in the objections of department of justice) nor is there any material to indicate that the expressions used by the candidate are suggestive of his links with any political party with strong ideological leanings.
“All citizens have the right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Expression of views by a candidate does not disentitle him to hold a constitutional office so long as the person proposed for judgeship is a person of competence, merit and integrity.
“Shri Somasekhar Sundaresan has specialised in commercial law and would be an asset to Bombay High Court which has a large volume of cases of commercial and securities laws, among other branches.”