Confusion prevails in at least six high courts over the interlinked transfers of their chief justices.
The chief justices in the high courts of Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand were to swap places according to a recommendation sent by the panel of seniormost judges in the country (Supreme Court collegium) to the government.
However, the recommendation in April-end by the collegium, which was then headed by former Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan and included the incumbent S.H. Kapadia, has become a headache for the government.
It all began with the collegium’s move to shift Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran, facing impeachment proceedings in the Rajya Sabha, to Sikkim on April 8.
However, since Justice Barin Ghosh had already been transferred to Sikkim from Jammu and Kashmir, he took oath on April 13. This forced the collegium to first adjust Justice Ghosh in another state to accommodate Dinakaran, leading to a chain of transfers and protests from some state governments and lawyers bodies, which the law ministry is grappling with.
The collegium later recommended Justice Ghosh for Uttarakhand High Court, from where the incumbent chief justice, J.S. Khehar, is to be sent to Karnataka.
The ministry’s problem is that transferring Justice Ghosh barely within six weeks after he joined in Sikkim would not send the right signal. “It is being done, but we will also have to factor in the growing trouble against Dinakaran in Sikkim,” said a ministry official.
The law ministry is also trying to untie the knot surrounding the transfer of Himachal Pradesh High Court Chief Justice Kurian Joseph, whom the collegium wants to be shifted to Jharkhand.
Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily had asked the collegium to reconsider Joseph’s case since he was sent to the hill state only in February, but it rejected the minister’s contention.
The Himachal government has opposed the transfer, but Centre’s worry is more serious. Two judges in Jharkhand High Court are senior to Joseph. The judges also include Justice Sushil Harkauli, allegedly named in the 2008 Ghaziabad provident fund scam.
“Till these seniors are transferred from Jharkhand, Justice Joseph cannot join as chief justice there,” said the official.
Once Justice Joseph’s case is settled, Justice Meena Kumari, the acting chief justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court, will replace him at Shimla.