In a controversial move, the Supreme Court panel responsible for the appointment of judges has cleared two district-level judges for promotion to the Delhi High Court in violation of its rules and conventions.
In clearing the names in the last week of January, the panel ignored seniority — considered "sacrosanct" for elevating district judges to the high court — and also overlooked a resolution passed at a chief justices’ conference in 1999 that said those nearing retirement would not be promoted, classified court documents show.
The name of Delhi High Court registrar general Ajit Bharihoke has been cleared by the collegium though he has barely eight months of service left. The court's judges' panel forwarded his name.
The move is bound to raise questions on the procedure for judges' appointments at a time when the judiciary is under increasing pressure to open up to public scrutiny.
Bharihoke shot into limelight in 1990s when he decided some very controversial and high-profile corruption cases. These included the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery case, in which he sentenced former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao to three years in jail.
Bharihoke, who also heard the Bofors and Lakhubhai Pathak cheating cases, would turn 60 in October, the age at which district judges retire.
"No district judge who has crossed the age of 58 years and six months should be considered for elevation to the high court from the service quote to maintain a healthy tradition of impartiality," a resolution passed at the chief justices conference of 1999 had said. The panel's go-ahead to Bharihoke overlooks the provision.
It's not for the first time that Bharihoke's has been recommended for promotion to the high court. In 2007, the court's panel for judges' appointments had forwarded his name for promotion, but the Supreme Court panel turned it down.
Two district judges, Mamta Sehgal and B.B. Choudhary, almost of Bharihoke's age, were overlooked, the documents show.
In clearing Supreme Court registrar general V.K. Jain's name, the panel ignored six district judges, who joined service before him.
Jain's promotion violates an apex court judgment that ruled that seniority shouldn't be ignored.
"Continuous length of service is the seniority criterion. In case seniority of officers of Delhi Higher Judicial Services is fixed by reference to their date of appointment, then nobody would suffer injustice - each and every officer would get due weightage," a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan had ruled in October last.
The file of these two district judges and those of three lawyers cleared by the apex court panel is with the Prime Minister's Office from where it would be forwarded to the President for final approval.