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SC Collegium Recommends New Judges for Tripura, Jharkhand HC, Rejecting IB’s Inputs

The collegium said that it would consider the Intelligence Bureau’s inputs on integrity only if they are corroborated with material evidence.

Television journalists are seen outside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi, August 22, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

New Delhi: The Supreme Court collegium, comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices J. Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi, has cleared the names of three advocates for appointment as judges of the Jharkhand high court, and of one advocate as judge of the Tripura high court.

The collegium has also recommended a fresh term of one year for three additional judges in the Gauhati high court, whose terms are about to expire, rejecting the high court collegium’s proposal to confirm them as permanent judges.

The collegium for recommending the appointment of high court judges has three senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, while five senior-most judges of the court form the collegium to decide transfers of high court judges and the appointees to the Supreme Court.

Although the latest appointments would appear to be routine recommendations by the collegium, they have evinced considerable interest in the light of the recent resolution to make them transparent.

Also read: As SC Collegium Ushers In Transparency, Justice Jayant Patel’s Resignation Has Not Been In Vain

The Supreme Court collegium has recorded its reasons for rejecting the inputs of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) on the professional competence of candidates, who have been recommended by the high court collegium.

Thus, the collegium recommended Rajesh Kumar, Anubha Rawat Choudhary and Kailash Prasad Deo for appointment as judges of the Jharkhand high court, overruling comments of the IB about their professional competence. The collegium also found the allegations against advocate Arindam Lodh, who has been recommended for appointment as judge of the Tripura high court, uncorroborated.

The collegium has expressed its view that professional competence can best be determined by members of the higher judiciary who have the opportunity to observe the performance of the appointee on a daily basis. From the resolution, it appears that the IB has not given favourable opinion about the professional competence of these appointees, recommended by the collegium, although it had “nothing on record” to support its comments on their integrity.

Making a distinction between professional acumen of the appointees and their integrity, the collegium has made it clear that it would consider the IB’s inputs only with regard to the latter, and only if they are corroborated with material evidence.

The collegium found that one of the candidates practicing as advocates, Pankaj Kumar, recommended for appointment as a judge by the collegium of the Jharkhand high court, was not suitable for elevation to the bench, having regard to the material placed on record, “including the revised income criterion and his association/links with many overground front organisations”.

On Rajesh Kumar, the collegium said that it would not be appropriate to take cognizance of any unsubstantiated information based on discreet inquiries made by the IB.

The collegium made similar remarks while considering allegations against Choudhary. “We have taken note of two complaints making allegations against Smt. Choudhary. We find that the allegations made therein are frivolous and malicious in nature and appear to have been made with an ulterior motive to stall the proposed appointment,” the collegium stated.

“In our considered opinion, hardly any credence can be attached to such complaints, particularly in the light of positive views of our consultee-colleagues as to her suitability,” it added.

In the case of Kailash Prasad Deo, the collegium even rejected the view of the consultee-colleague who did not find him suitable for elevation, without giving any specific reason to justify rejection.

On the IB’s complaints against Arindam Lodh’s integrity, the collegium not only found them uncorroborated and unsubstantiated, but factually incorrect. “In view of the positive material on record, including the views of our consultee-colleague, no credence can be attached to the above complaints,” the collegium said.

The collegium deferred the consideration of the proposal to elevate Data Mohan Jamatia, a judicial officer, as judge of the Tripura high court, as further inputs relating to him are awaited.

The Supreme Court collegium has also recorded its reasons for disagreeing with the collegium of the Gauhati high court on the elevation of three of its additional judges, whose terms are about to expire. The terms of additional judges, Justices Lanusungkum Jamir and Manash Ranjan Pathak, are to expire on November 21, while that of Justice Rumi Kumari Phukan expires on January 7 next year.

Additional judges of the high courts are generally appointed for a term of two years, and are considered for confirmation as permanent judges before their terms end.

While considering the elevation of Justices Jamir and Pathak, the collegium took note of the fact that consent of the state government for their elevation has not been received. Besides, two of the consultee-colleagues, conversant with the affairs of the high court, suggested to the collegium that their overall performance ought to be observed further.

The collegium also took note of the report of the committee of two judges, constituted by the Chief Justice, in terms of the recent resolution, to review the judgments delivered by the additional judges, being considered for appointment as permanent judges, although it did not divulge its contents.

In terms of transparency, though, the latest resolutions on the high court appointees, may not completely satisfy the collegium-watchers, who might have had huge expectations from the collegium’s earlier promise to disclose the reasons for its decisions.