New Delhi: The government today returned to the Supreme Court collegium its recommendation to elevate Justice K.M. Joseph to the apex court and asked it to reconsider it, a move which may widen rift between the judiciary and the executive.
This comes a day after the government cleared the appointment of senior advocate Indu Malhotra as a judge of the Supreme Court and kept in abeyance a decision on Joseph, who heads the Uttarakhand high court. Both the names were recommended by the collegium in January.
In a ruling in 2016, Justice Joseph had cancelled president’s rule in Uttarakhand and brought back the Harish Rawat-led Congress government to power. The judgement was seen as major setback to the BJP-ruled government at the Centre.
The government’s decision to not approve Joseph’s name has evoked sharp reactions, with the Supreme Court Bar Association president calling it “disturbing”.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra this morning requesting the collegium, a group of five senior-most judges that selects judges for the apex court, to reconsider its decision on recommending Justice Joseph to be a judge of the top court.
Prasad also informed the CJI that senior advocate Malhotra has today been appointed a judge of the Supreme Court.
Both the Congress and CPI(M) have criticised the Centre’s decision, NDTV reported.
Activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan shared the views of senior advocate Vikas Singh, the Supreme Court Bar Association president.
The Congress leadership including P. Chidambaram, himself a senior advocate, were critical of the Centre’s decision and tweeted that the recommendation of the collegium was final and binding in the appointment of judges.
“Is the Modi government above the law,” Chidambaram tweeted. “What is holding up Justice K M Joseph’s appointment? His state, or his religion or his judgement in the Uttarakhand case?”
SCBA president Vikas Singh, speaking in his individual capacity, had earlier expressed concern over the delay in the appointment of Justice Joseph and said “this kind of interference by the executive is definitely uncalled for”.
“This elevation is very wrong as it disturbs the seniority in the Supreme Court. We have seen in the recent past how important seniority is in the apex court. Judges are being labelled as junior judges and said that they were not fit to hear sensitive matters. So tomorrow if somebody says Justice Joseph is a junior judge and not fit to hear a particular matter, it will be very sad. Government will be responsible. This kind of interference by the executive is definitely uncalled for. By delaying this, they have definitely interfered in seniority rules and in that sense they have interfered in the functioning of judiciary. A very serious matter. The civil society and the judges of the Supreme Court in full court should discuss and take it up with the government,” Singh told PTI.
Bhushan was vocal in criticising the Centre and alleged that the government was trying to erode and destroy the independence of judiciary by not appointing those recommended by the collegium.
“Justice K.M. Joseph’s instance is a very clear one, whose name has been stalled, which was recommended by the collegium four months ago. The name was unanimously recommended by the collegium and yet it has been stalled by the government because he gave a judgment in Uttarakhand case against the government. It is very shameful and shocking for a government which talks about the independence of judiciary to try and erode the independence of judiciary by sitting on appointment of people that it doesn’t like,” Bhushan said.
On January 22, the apex court collegium’s file recommending the elevation of Justice Joseph and Malhotra reached the law ministry.
After processing the file in the first week of February, the recommendations were kept in abeyance as the government wanted to elevate only Malhotra. But now, the government has gone ahead with the appointment of Malhotra and asked the collegium to reconsider the elevation of Justice Joseph.
The government’s official stance has been that while recommending the name of Justice Joseph, the collegium has disregarded seniority and regional representation. He is 42nd in the seniority list of 669 high court judges. However, the collegium had given several reasons as to why it thought Justice Joseph deserved the post, even if he may not be the most senior.
(With PTI inputs)