Seven weeks after they were recommended for promotion to the Supreme Court (SC) along with controversial Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran, the fate of four high court chief justices still hangs in balance.
The panel of top five judges (collegium) that met on Saturday is understood to have put on hold Justice Dinakaran’s promotion pending an inquiry initiated by Chief Justice of India (CJI) K.G. Balakrishnan and decided to ask the government to process the other four cases.
The Ministry of Law and Justice, however, has not received any communication regarding this from the collegium. “We have only learnt from media reports that the collegium has met twice on the Justice Dinakaran issue. The only letter we have received is about the August 27 collegium meeting that recommended five names for elevation to the apex court,” said a senior ministry official unwilling to be named.
Besides Justice Dinakaran, the collegium had recommended the names of chief justices of Calcutta, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab and Haryana — S S Nijjar, K S Radhakrishnan, A K Patnaik and T S Thakur respectively for promotion.
What complicates the matter is the retirement on Thursday of Justice B.N. Agrawal, the senior most judge in the country.
With his retirement the collegium will have to be re-constituted. This will also take the number of vacancies in the Supreme Court to eight.
After a recent amendment, the SC can have 31 judges, including the CJI. The new collegium can reiterate the recommendation already sent to the government or send a fresh one adding more names in view of the increased vacancies.
Justice Agrawal’s retirement also seems to have saved it from the embarrassment of sending a revised recommendation dropping Justice Dinakaran’s name.
As the legal position stands today, the government on its own cannot split the collegium’s recommendation to pick some names and reject the others.
If it has any objections, it can return the recommendation (as a whole) once but if the collegium reiterated the recommendation, it becomes binding on the government.
The collegium met twice on the issue of Justice Dinakaran, after top jurists objected to his name following allegations of
corruption and land grabbing, but no final decision was taken.