The Supreme Court Collegium has cleared the name of Justice Jagdish Bhalla of the Allahabad High Court for appointment as the Chief Justice of the Chhattisgarh High Court.
This comes within months of President APJ Abdul Kalam returning the file for Justice Bhalla’s elevation as the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court in view of certain reservations expressed by some lawyers, including former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, over alleged land deals of his wife. Kalam had returned his file to the Prime Minister’s Office, which in turn had sent it back to the Supreme Court Collegium.
But now the Collegium headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan has cleared his appointment as the Chief Justice of the Chhattisgarh High Court replacing the present incumbent Justice HL Datto, who would be transferred to the Kerala High Court, sources said.
Earlier, a Collegium headed by Justice Balakrishnan’s predecessor Justice YK Sabharwal had cleared Justice Bhalla’s name for elevation as the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court but the President did not agree with it. Later, Justice Sabharwal had on the day of his retirement openly defended Justice Bhalla on the ground that the local bar fully supported him and that the opposition was only from some Delhi-based lawyers.
Under Article 124 and Article 217 of the Constitution, a Judge of the Supreme Court and that of a High Court respectively has to be appointed by the President after “consultation” with the CJI. However, a nine-judge Constitution Bench in 1999 ruled that the “consultation” must be effective and the CJI’s opinion shall have primacy in the matter. Since then there has been consistent demand from the Legislature and the Executive to bring in more transparency in judicial appointments.
This is the third case in which the Supreme Court Collegium has taken a firm stand and chosen to ignore the issues raised by the President with regard to appointment of High Court Judges.
Earlier, Kalam had returned the file for elevation of Justice Vijender Jain of the Delhi High Court as the Chief Justice of the Punjab & Haryana High Court and the same relating to confirmation of Justice S L Bhayana as a Judge of the Delhi High Court.
While a litigant had leveled some charges of impropriety against Justice Jain, Justice Bhayana’s file was returned by the President in view of certain adverse remarks made by a Bench headed by Justice R S Sodhi for acquitting all the nine accused in the Jessica Lall murder case.
However, the Collegium headed by the then Chief Justice Sabharwal once again cleared Justice Jain’s appointment and he had to be appointed as the CJ of Punjab and Haryana High Court. Justice Sabharwal had also defended Justice Jain as an honest and bright Judge.
The current Collegium headed by Justice Balakrishnan recommended for the second time Justice Bhayana's name for confirmation last month.
Last month, a Bench headed by the CJI held that no action could be initiated against a judge for passing an erroneous order and set aside an Allahabad High Court decision demoting an Additional Sessions Judge for having granted bail to a murder case accused in 1996.