65 years is too early an age to retire: CJI Ramana

CJI Ramana was holding a conversation with US Supreme Court judge Stephen Breyer, 83, at a webinar on comparative constitutional laws when the issue of the age of retirement between the two judicial systems cropped up.
CJI Ramana said retirement from the judiciary would not mean his retirement from public life. (ANI)
CJI Ramana said retirement from the judiciary would not mean his retirement from public life. (ANI)
Updated on Apr 12, 2022 05:23 AM IST
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By, New Delhi

Sixty-five is “too early” to retire, Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana said on Monday, with under five months left in his tenure as a judge of the Supreme Court. Justice Ramana turns 65 on August 27 this year. August 26 is his last day in office as the CJI.

Justice Ramana was holding a conversation with US Supreme Court judge Stephen Breyer, 83, at a webinar on comparative constitutional laws when the issue of the age of retirement between the two judicial systems cropped up.

While justice Breyer plans to voluntarily retire from the Supreme Court at the conclusion of its current term following 27 years on the bench, justice Ramana shall retire in August following an eight-and-half year stint. The Indian Constitution has fixed 65 as the retirement age for judges of the apex court.

In the US, Supreme Court judges leave office only by death, or when they themselves, alone and individually, resign. Retirement of justice Breyer this summer will pave the way for Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is slated to become the first Black woman in the US Supreme Court.

“I think 65 years is too early an age for someone to retire. I worked almost 22 years as a judge in the high court, in the Supreme Court, and as the chief justice of the Supreme Court... In the Indian judiciary, we know our date of retirement at the time of joining. There are no exceptions,” justice Ramana said on Monday when William M Treanor, the Dean and Executive Vice-President of Georgetown University Law Center, asked the CJI if 65 was too young an age for a judge to retire. Treanor was moderating the session at the webinar.

Justice Ramana added: “I am still left with a decent amount of energy. I am the son of an agriculturalist. I am still left with some land to cultivate. I am basically a man of people. I love to be among people. It has been my nature since my student days. I hope I will find the right avenue to invest my energy for the sake of people.”

The CJI further said retirement from the judiciary would not mean his retirement from public life.

During the interaction, justice Ramana also underscored the significance of the independence of judiciary and the need to have an independent system of appointing judges.

“The Constitution of India mandates separation of powers between the three organs of the State. The judiciary is mandated to review executive and legislative actions. That is why the independence of judiciary is non-negotiable. It is the courts that uphold fundamental rights and the rule of law. People will trust the Judiciary only if it acts independently. The decisions of the Supreme Court on judicial appointments are aimed at sustaining people’s faith and trust,” he said.

In a tacit reference to the constitution bench judgments starting 1990s, when the apex court declared the primacy of the CJI and the collegium in appointing judges to the constitutional courts, justice Ramana said that the interpretation of the relevant constitutional provisions regarding the appointment of judges had to be undertaken by the Supreme Court only when it felt that there was executive overreach.

The CJI also called the system of appointing judges through a collegium of senior Supreme Court judges an utmost “democratic” system where all the stakeholders are invited to share their views.

“There is an impression that in India judges appoint judges. It is a wrong impression and I want to correct that. The appointment is done through a lengthy consultative process. Many stakeholders are consulted. The executive is one of the key stakeholders,” said justice Ramana.

The CJI pointed out that the process of appointment of judges in high courts involves opinions of the concerned state government, the governor and the central government before the top three judges of the Supreme Court consider the proposal based on inputs given by all the stakeholders.

“We also take the opinion of the consultee judges in Supreme Court. Many people may not be aware of this. A consultee judge is the one who hails from the same state or had earlier worked in that high court. Only after taking into account the wide range of opinions from diverse sources does collegium form its opinion. Most of the time, it is a unanimous opinion. I don’t think a selection process can be more democratic than this,” he asserted, adding it is finally the government which appoints the judges in the name of the President of India.

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Friday, July 01, 2022