In a major embarrassment for the judiciary, the government has returned a recommendation to promote three high court chief justices to the Supreme Court.
The file containing the names recommended by a top-level judges committee, the collegium, has been sent back to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) “for reconsideration”.
Following a directive from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Law Ministry informed the CJI’s office of the government’s decision, a senior official, who did not want to be identified, said.
The government decision, first of its kind in 15 years, since the collegium system for judges’ appointments and transfers was adopted, followed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s personal intervention in the matter, the official said.
The five-member Supreme Court collegium, headed by CJI K.G. Balakrishnan, had on October 18 cleared the names of chief justices of Madras, Patna and Kerala high courts — Justices A.K. Ganguly, R.M. Lodha and H.L. Dattu — for promotion to the Supreme Court.
HT had reported on October 27 that seniomost judges in the country — Justices A.P. Shah, A.K. Patnaik and V.K. Gupta — were overlooked for promotion.
The Law Ministry, in its forwarding note to the PMO on the collegium recommendations, had pointed out that apart from seniority, “there are no judges in the Supreme Court from six states —Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim.”
The ministry had also observed that the highest court in the country was without a woman judge since 28 months.
After studying the details, the PM reportedly summoned Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj and asked him to send the file back.
“When senior judges from the states not represented in the Supreme Court were available, there was no reason to ignore them,” the PMO is learnt to have recorded on the file. Bhardwaj refused to comment and just said: “Such sensitive matters cannot be discussed in public domain.”
Having taken an unprecedented step of returning the collegium recommendations, the government seems unsure of the path ahead, as it has limited options under the existing rules on the issue.
In case, the collegium decides to recommend the same names for the second time, the government will have no option but to forward these to the President, who is bound to approve the promotions. But, there is no deadline within which the government has to approve the recommendations. It remains to be seen what course it takes after the collegium send its revised list.