Appointments of judges, which has pitted the judiciary against the government, are likely to be delayed after a senior judge refused to attend Supreme Court collegium meetings citing lack of transparency in a rare ‘revolt’ to hit the top court.
In a three-page letter, justice J Chelameswar urged Chief Justice of India TS Thakur to make the judges’ appointment process transparent, sources said. Reasons for rejecting or recommending a candidate should be put on record, the letter sent on Thursday said.
Under the collegium system the CJI and other senior SC justices appoint judges to the top court as well as the high court. It is also responsible for transferring HC judges.
The judge, who objected to some recent transfers, expressed his unwillingness to attend the meetings as no record of the discussion between the top five judges in collegium was maintained. He is understood to have said he saw no purpose in attending the meeting and suggested the collegium’s agenda should be circulated to members. He also turned down the CJI’s request to take back the letter, sources said.
He was the lone dissenting judge in the five-judge constitution bench that in October last struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), which gave some say to the executive in judges’ appointment. He, however, signed the unanimous order requiring the government to make changes in the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) in consultation with collegium laying down fresh guidelines for judges’ appointments.
This is the first time in the history of the Indian judiciary that a senior judge of the Supreme Court has decided to keep away from collegium meetings, questioning the opacity in appointment and transfer of judges.
The letter comes at a time when the government and judiciary are at loggerheads over the new MoP. CJI Thakur has publicly criticised the government for not clearing fresh appointments and transfers, despite an assurance that vacancies will be filled up pending finalisation of the MoP. He has warned that the court might pass judicial orders if things didn’t move fast.
Justice Chelameswar’s letter will give fodder to the government to lash out at the judiciary for resisting transparency. The note was sent hours before the collegium was scheduled to meet to discuss the revised MoP. The judge skipped the meeting, which proceeded in his absence. However, no decision was taken on the MoP.