The government is heading for yet another confrontation with the judiciary as it looks set to return a recommendation to promote three high court chief justices. A top-level judges committee, the Supreme Court collegium, had sent the three names to be elevated to the country’s highest court as judges.
This is the first time in 15 years since the collegium system for judges’ appointments and promotions was adopted that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has declined to approve its recommendations, a senior official who didn't want to be identified said.
The collegium system came into being in 1993.
The present controversy arose when the five-member collegium, headed by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan, on October 18 cleared the names of the chief justices of the Madras, Patna and Kerala high courts — Justices A.K. Ganguly, RM.Lodha and HL Dattu, respectively — for promotion to the Supreme Court. HT had reported on October 27 that senior-most judges in the country — Justices AP Shah, A. Patnaik and VK Gupta — were overlooked for promotion.
Records show that apart from the seniority issue, there are no judges in the court from six states — Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim. “When senior judges from MP and J&K were available, there was no reason to ignore them,” the PMO is reported to have recorded on the file, which is now with the law ministry. The ministry would return it to the Supreme Court to reconsider the points raised by the government.
In case the collegium decides to go with the same names, the government will have no option but to forward the file to the President, who is bound to approve the promotions. But there is no deadline for the President’s approval.
Law Minister HR Bhardwaj refused to discuss the matter, merely said: “It’s under the government’s consideration and an appropriate decision would be taken soon.”