Law

Amid Collegium Row, Centre Elevates Justices Sanjiv Khanna, Dinesh Maheshwari to SC

Expressing concern over the collegium bypassing the seniority of several judges, the Bar Council of India has called the decision "unjust and improper".

New Delhi: Ignoring the huge row over his elevation that has led to several senior judges being sidelined, the government on January 16 appointed Delhi high court judge Sanjiv Khanna to the Supreme Court, as recommended by the apex court’s collegium.

A government notification said President Ram Nath Kovind also appointed Karnataka high court Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari as a judge of

the apex court. With the two appointments, the strength of the top court will rise to 28 with three vacancies.

The five-member SC collegium headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on January 11 recommended to the government the elevation of Justices Maheshwari and Khanna to the top court.

Also read: Master of Roster Has Also Become the Master of Collegium

The appointment of Justice Khanna was announced on a day when the chorus of protests against the collegium’s recommendation to elevate him grew louder with Bar Council of India (BCI) saying it is “whimsical and arbitrary” and will lead to “humiliation and demoralisation” of the superseded judges.

A sitting Supreme Court judge Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul has already written a note to Justice Gogoi and fellow judges in the collegium – Justices A.K. Sikri, S.A. Bobde, N.V. Ramana and Arun Mishra – for ignoring the seniority of Chief Justices of the high courts of Rajasthan and Delhi, Pradeep Nandrajog and Rajendra Menon, respectively.

Sources said Justice Kaul was of the view that a wrong signal would go out if the two Chief Justices, who are further up on list of seniority than Justice Khanna, would be left out for elevation as apex court judges.

Justice Khanna stands at No. 33 in the combined seniority of high court judges on an all-India basis.

Discontent over decision

Former CJI R.M. Lodha said the unprecedented January 12, 2018 press conference by four senior-most judges including Gogoi before he became the CJI has not served the purpose for which it was held. Instead, the concerns raised, including the functioning of collegium for appointment of judges for higher judiciary, have aggravated.

“Looking at the overall reaction and perception, it would be better if the matter (of Khanna) is recalled and considered threadbare but this seems to be unlikely to me,” he said.

Left to right: Justices Kurian Joseph, Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan Lokur address the media at a news conference in New Delhi. Credit: Reuters

Left to right: Justices Kurian Joseph, Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan Lokur address the media at a news conference in New Delhi. Credit: Reuters

“The concerns remain the same. Rather, they seem to have aggravated by this exercise (recent recommendations). I don’t think there is any change. At least it is not visible to the public at large. It has not served its purpose because we don’t find the changes which the press conference wanted to have really taken place,” Justice Lodha told PTI.

Justice Kailash Gambhir, a former Delhi high court judge, also wrote a letter to President Kovind on January 14 expressing concern over the collegium bypassing the seniority of several judges.

The BCI, which is an apex body of lawyers, said the decision of the collegium was viewed by the bar and the common man as “unjust and improper”.

In a statement, BCI Chairman Manan Kumar Mishra said the supersession of several senior Judges and Chief Justices of the country cannot be tolerated by the people and the revocation of the earlier decision recommending the names of 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 will certainly lead to humiliation and demoralisation of such judges and also of several other deserving senior judges and Chief Justices of high courts,” Mishra said.

The bar body said it was watching the “strong resentment and reaction of the Indian Bar” as well as keeping a tab on the comments of intellectuals, social activists and general public “which shows that the faith of the people has abruptly eroded from our collegiums system in recent past”.

Also read: A Year After Four SC Judges’ Press Conference, Is Democracy Still in Danger?

While maintaining that the BCI was hard-pressed to raise these issues, it said even the Bar Council of Delhi also adopted a resolution against the decision of the collegium.

Further, the statement said that several state bar councils, high courts, bar associations and other bar associations of the country have written to the BCI, pressing it to raise this issue and agitate the matter before the government and the collegium judges.

“Most of the councils and associations have even proposed to sit on a dharna and/or organise some nationwide protest on this serious issue,” the BCI said, adding that the recent trend adopted by the collegium has completely “eroded” the faith of the bar and the people.

“We have no grievance against Justice Khanna. But he can wait for his turn. There is no hurry to elevate him ignoring the merit and seniority of several Chief Justices and puisne Judges of the country,” it said.

“The Bar will request the collegiums and the government not to encourage such supersession. The appointments, in complete derogation of seniority principle, has evoked strong reactions from all corners of the society,” the BCI said.

Due representation

The decision on elevation of Justices Maheshwari and Khanna that was put on the apex court website noted that the issue of elevation of judges was deliberated on December 12 last year when Justice Madan B. Lokur was also a member of the collegium.

Justice Mishra became a member of the collegium after Justice Lokur retired on December 30.

According to the website, after extensive deliberations on January 5-6 this year, the newly-constituted collegium deemed it appropriate to have a fresh look on the issue of elevation of judges in the light of the additional material that became available.

“While recommending the names of justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna, the collegium has taken into consideration combined seniority on all-India basis of Chief Justices and senior puisne judges of high courts, apart from their merit and integrity,” the collegium said.

The collegium added that it has also kept in mind the desirability of giving due representation on the Bench of the Supreme Court, as far as possible, to all the high courts.

(With inputs from PTI)

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