Amid protests from political and legal quarters, former Chief Justice of India, P Sathasivam, 65, got appointed as Kerala governor on Wednesday, becoming the first ex-CJI in a gubernatorial post.
Even as the Congress party and legal fraternity continued to criticize the move, Sathasivam himself came out to defend his new position: “If I say no to this job, I have to do farming in my village. As a former CJI I can have good relations with the state and the Centre and it will benefit the people of Kerala.”
A Rashtrapati Bhavan communique said that the President has accepted the resignation of Sheila Dikshit, who submitted her papers last week, as Kerala governor and has appointed Sathasivam with effect from the date he assumes charge.
Sathasivam retired as Chief Justice in April this year.
Sources added that although several petitions reached President Pranab Mukherjee’s office, he chose to accept the government’s proposal as there is no constitutional bar in such appointment.
Congress spokesperson Shobha Oza recalled earlier statements of BJP leaders, including transport minister Nitin Gadkari, who had suggested a minimum two-year mandatory wait for judges for post-retirement appointments to judicial commissions or tribunals.
The Congress had slammed the move to appoint Sathasivam as Kerala governor and wondered whether the government was "pleased" with his judgement in the Amit Shah case.
"Why was he made (the Kerala governor)? This raises a question if he has done some work, for which they are pleased. Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi is pleased, Amit Shah is pleased and that is why he is being honoured?," Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma had said on Tuesday.
The Congress had slammed the move to appoint him at the post wondering if there is "anything in his persona, functioning or his decisions, which has really attracted very warmly, very positively, the acceptance of Prime Minister and BJP president (Amit Shah)".
Sathasivam was on the Supreme Court bench that scrapped a second FIR against Shah in a fake encounter case, saying it was linked to the bigger Sohrabuddin Sheikh killing case and did not need to be separate.
But, the Congress looked divided as former minister Manish Tewari said that there was no constitutional bar in Sathasivam’s appointment.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and lawyer Prashant Bhushan alleged that Sathasivam’s appointment could compromise the independence of the judiciary: “It should be considered beneath the dignity of a retired Chief Justice to accept the political post of governor. Offering such posts to retired judges compromises the independence of the judiciary,” he said.
Former CJI VN Khare too, criticised the government’s decision: “Controversy may arise in the matter. People will like to align with the party in power if he has appointed by that regime. So, they will try to link him with the government in power.”
The bar association in the Supreme Court and Kerala had also petitioned the President against appointment of Sathasivam, saying there was impropriety in a person who had served as CJI being appointed as governor by the President.
Unfazed by the criticism, Sathasivam said that after his retirement "I can utilise my service to the people of the state in a better way compared to other politicians" and added that he would share details after the swearing-in.
"I want to utilise my experience for the people of the particular state (Kerala)."
Earlier, the Congress had nominated former CJI Ranganath Mishra as MP in Rajya Sabha from Odisha.
Shanti Bhushan on P Sathasivam : When an imp post is in the giving by Govt then judges after retirement should not be appointed to that post
The NDA Government has appointed ten governors so far which include former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh (Rajasthan), Ram Naik (Uttar Pradesh), Keshari Nath Tripathi (West Bengal), Om Prakash Kohli (Gujarat), Balram Ji Das Tandan (Chhattisgarh), Padmanabha Balakrishna Acharya (Nagaland) and Kaptan Singh Solanki (Haryana).
The others appointed were Gujarat Speaker Vajubhai Vala (Karnataka), C Vidyasagar Rao (Maharashtra) and Mridula Sinha (Goa).
So far nine governors, appointed by previous UPA government, have tendered their resignation. The latest was Manipur Governor Vinod Kumar Duggal who submitted the resignation late last week.
Besides Duggal and Dikshit, other governors who resigned after being nudged by the NDA government were — MK Narayanan (West Bengal), Ashwani Kumar (Nagaland), BL Joshi (UP), BV Wanchoo (Goa) and Shekhar Dutt (Chhattisgarh).
V Purushothaman, the governor of Mizoram, had resigned after he was transferred to Nagaland in July this year while Masharashtra Governor K Sankaranarayanan tendered his resignation on August 24 after he was shifted to Mizoram.
After the new government assumed office, two governors, including 87-year-old Kamla Beniwal, who had a running battle with Modi when he was Gujarat chief minister when she was governor of the western state, were sacked.
Lt Governor of Puducherry Virendra Kataria, a former Congress leader, was also sacked.
Uttarakhand governor Aziz Qureshi has challenged in the Supreme Court Centre's purported moves to ease him out of office, bringing the controversy over removal of UPA-appointed Governors under judicial lens.
(with PTI inputs)