By clearing the names of three high court judges for elevation to the Supreme Court, President Pratibha Patil put an end to the two-month-long tug-of-war between the government and judiciary.
The President’s consent, which came on Monday, to the promotion of Justices HL Dattu, AK Ganguly and RM Lodha — chief justice of Kerala, Madras and Patna high courts, respectively —will take the total number of judges in the Supreme Court to 24.
Appointments and promotions of judges are done by the President on the basis of recommendations made by a panel of Supreme Court judges which are forwarded by the government.
The latest decision shows that an assertive judiciary once again prevailed over the government, brushed aside its objections, and the growing demand for greater transparency in the appointments and promotions of judges.
The trouble started when on October 18 the Supreme Court panel, responsible for judges’ appointments and promotions, recommended the three chief justices for promotion to the Supreme Court.
Hindustan Times reported on October 27 that the panel had overlooked the three senior-most high court judges in the country – Justices A.P. Shah, A.K. Patnaik and V.K. Gupta – chief justices of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand high courts, respectively.
Last month, for the first time in 15 years since the present system for appointments and promotions was adopted, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) refused to endorse the recommendations and sent back the file to the apex court for reconsideration.
The PMO pointed out that the three judges were junior to several other judges eligible for promotion. It also drew the panel’s attention to the fact that state and gender representation had been overlooked.
Six states — Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim — are not represented in the Supreme Court. Since June 2006, the court has also been without a lady judge.
However, in a snub, the SC panel sent the same names back.
Rules say the government has the option to return the recommendations once to the Supreme Court, but had to accept them the second time.