Centre Has Its Way, Supreme Court Collegium Reassigns Justice Akil Kureshi

After an inordinate delay and after receiving two notes from the government, the apex court has sent the well-regarded judge as chief justice of the Tripura high court instead of to Madhya Pradesh as it had already decided.

New Delhi: Justice Akil Abdulhamid Kureshi’s appointment as a high court chief justice continues to spur debate with the Supreme Court giving in to the Modi government’s insistence that he not be sent to Madhya Pradesh as the collegium had initially decided: the judge has instead been recommended for the position of chief justice of the Tripura high court.

Justice Kureshi is currently the senior most judge in the Gujarat high court. As a high court judge, he had in 2010 sent Amit Shah to police custody in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case.

In May, the collegium had recommended that he be appointed chief justice of the Madhya Pradesh high court.

After sitting on the this request for months even as it cleared the names of other judges for elevation, the Union government finally sent two letters to the collegium to reconsider its stand on Justice Kureshi. Though the government would have had no choice but to appoint the judge as chief justice of the Madhya Pradesh high court if the collegium had stuck to its guns, the three-judge body headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi decided at its meeting on September 5 to accommodate the Centre and recommend the appointment of Justice Kureshi as chief justice of the high court in Tripura.

The collegium’s resolution was uploaded on to the Supreme Court website onn September 20.

The resolution does not provide any reasons for changing Justice Kureshi’s recommendation as top judge from the Madhya Pradesh high court to the Tripura high court. But it says that the government did send the collegium some “material” which led them to reconsider their decision.

Earlier, advocates of the Gujarat high court had rallied in Justice Kureshi’s favour, and filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the long delay in deciding his fate. A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, was due to hear this petition. These lawyers, led by senior advocates Fali Nariman and Yatin Oza, have been open in their criticism of the unexplained time taken over this decision.

Their petition filed in court says: “The deliberate inaction of the respondent (Centre) in not appointing Mr Justice Akil Kureshi as the Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court impinges and diminishes the primacy of the judiciary in the matters of appointment and transfer of judges to High Court and Supreme Court.”

The advocates also pointed out that recommendations for other judges made on the same day as Kureshi’s, such as the case of Justice D.N. Patel, were notified within two weeks. Kureshi’s had been pending since May.

Another judge has been notified as an acting chief justice of Madhya Pradesh high court in June, even though Kureshi’s name was recommended in May.

Also read | Justice Denied: The Curious Case of an Inordinate Delay in a Judge’s Elevation

Justice Kureshi’s wait over his appointment has been controversial. Many have questioned whether the delay is because he had ruled against Amit Shah, who is now Union home minister, nine years ago.

Recently, chief justice of the Madras high court, V.K. Tahilramani, was recommended as  chief justice of the Meghalaya high court. This is a much smaller court than Madras and Tahilramani has resigned in protest.