Barely a week before Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan retires, it has emerged that a close relative of his was appointed a Kerala High Court judge in January last year.
Supreme Court sources, however, said the CJI “opted out” of the panel of seniormost judges in the country (the Supreme Court collegium) that recommended the name of his relative to the government.
Justice C.T. Ravi Kumar — the brother-in-law of Justice Balakrishnan’s younger brother K.G. Vijayan — was appointed an additional judge of the Kerala High Court on January 5, 2009, records show. The name of Justice Kumar was recommended along with three others by the high court collegium, headed by the then chief justice of the high court, Justice H.L. Dattu, in August 2008, who was promoted to the Supreme Court in December that year.
The three others were Justice Balakrishnan, Justice B.N. Agrawal and Justice Arijit Pasayat, HT has learnt. However, the recommendation for Justice Kumar was forwarded only by Justices Agarwal and Pasayat in December 2008, both of whom are now retired.
The CJI did not respond to questionnaires sent to him.
A court source, however, said, “The hon’ble CJI was not a part of the collegium that cleared the name of his relative and no more information about matters related to collegium decisions can be divulged.”
The Ministry for Law and Justice said it had “no records either of the collegium meetings or the CJI’s recusal”. Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily declined to comment, saying he was not aware of the matter. The Law Commission of India, the advisory body of the government on complex legal issues, had criticised the prevalence of “uncle judges” in the higher judiciary in its report on judicial reforms in August 2009.
“A person whose near relation or a well-wisher is or has been a judge in the higher courts or is a senior advocate or is a political high-up stands a better chance of becoming a judge,” it said.
Former CJI V. N. Khare said the sole criteria should be merit. “In case a relative of an influential personality is being considered, it becomes the dominant factor and merit is ignored.”