Suspense on judge elevation

Speculation rippled through the Bar on Wednesday over reports that the NDA government had returned to the Supreme Court collegium the files recommending the elevation of Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K.M. Joseph and senior advocate Indu Malhotra as judges of the apex court.

By R. Balaji
  • Published 1.02.18
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KM Joseph

New Delhi: Speculation rippled through the Bar on Wednesday over reports that the NDA government had returned to the Supreme Court collegium the files recommending the elevation of Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K.M. Joseph and senior advocate Indu Malhotra as judges of the apex court.

But sources in the Union law ministry denied that the files were sent back to the collegium for reconsideration. Judicial sources also said they were not aware of such a move by the government.

In spite of repeated efforts by this paper, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and minister of state for law P.P. Chaudhary could not be reached for comment.

The collegium had made the recommendations on January 11 and the official files from Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra's office had reached the Union law ministry only on January 22.

The five-member collegium of Chief Justice Misra, Justices J. Chelameshar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph had unanimously resolved on January 11 to recommend the two names for elevation.

Indu Malhotra

On the very next day the four senior judges stunned the nation by holding an unprecedented media conference to complain that the Chief Justice was allocating important cases to a select few judges of his choice and ignoring the others who are senior to them in terms of experience.

As convention goes, the decision of the collegium is binding on the government. But since 2014 after it came to power, the NDA government had refrained from clearing the names of over 100 judges for various high courts, raising questions over their eligibility or suitability.

A strong undercurrent of friction is at play between the central government and the judiciary after the latter in October 2016 struck down as unconstitutional the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC). The commission was sought to be set up by Parliament to replace the present collegium system of appointments.

Under the collegium system, the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court decide on the transfer and appointment of judges to the high courts and the Supreme Court.

Justice K.M. Joseph was earlier transferred by the collegium from Uttarakhand High Court to Andhra Pradesh High Court in May 2016 on health grounds. However, the NDA government did not clear his transfer till January 11, this year - the day on which the collegium made a fresh recommendation, this time elevating him to Supreme Court.