Three seniormost chief justices of high courts in the country will not become judges of the Supreme Court, the high-level committee responsible for judges appointments has decided.
The five-member committee of judges (collegium), headed by the Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan, has overlooked the seniormost judges and cleared the names of three high court chief justices junior to them for elevation as Supreme Court judges.
The names of chief justices of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand high courts — justices A.P. Shah, A.K. Patnaik and V.K. Gupta — do not figure in the list of those cleared to become Supreme Court judges.
A senior Supreme Court official said: “The recommendation sent by the collegium to the Law Ministry last week named chief justices of Madras, Patna and Kerala high courts — justices A.K. Ganguly, R.M. Lodha and H.L. Dattu — for elevation to the Supreme Court”.
A copy of the collegium recommendation accessed by HT shows the names cleared by the collegium are all junior to Shah, Patnaik and Gupta. Records show that Justice Gupta became a high court judge in 1990, and was elevated to the post of chief justice in 2000. Justice Shah became a judge in 1992 and a chief justice in 2005. Justice Patnaik became a judge in 1994 and a chief justice in 2005.
In comparison, Justice Dattu became a judge in 1995 and was elevated to the position of chief justice in 2007. Justice Ganguly was also made a chief justice last year. Justice Lodha became a chief justice only in May this year.
Supreme Court officials defended the recommendations. “Seniority is one of the criterion for elevation of judges to the Supreme Court,” a senior official said, adding, “Other factors like performance as a judge and the conduct is also taken into account.”
The Law Ministry refused to comment. “We do not comment on individual cases. Our minister H.R. Bhardwaj has said on record that the collegium system has failed,” a senior official said. He said the government had a “limited role” on the collegium recommendations.
“After verifying the records of the names sent by the collegium, we send the file to the President with our comments. It is up to the President to take a final decision,” he said.