After row, Centre clears advocate as Bombay HC judge
The government has approved the appointment of advocate Somasekhar Sundaresan as a judge in the Bombay HC following a ten-month delay.
NEW DELHI: Ten months after the collegium reiterated its recommendation, first made in early 2022, the Union government, on Thursday notified the appointment of advocate Somasekhar Sundaresan as a judge in the Bombay high court. Sundaresan’s appointment as a judge was earlier stalled by the Union government, which cited his “selectively critical” views on social media against governmental policies and initiatives.
Union law minister Arjun Ram Meghwal posted the news of the appointment on X (formerly Twitter).
In January, the collegium reiterated its recommendation to appoint Sundaresan, standing firm on its February 2022 decision to propose his name for elevation.
The January 2023 resolution revealed that the government wanted the collegium to reconsider Sundaresan’s candidature because he had aired on social media, his views on several matters pending before the courts. The government had returned Sundaresan’s name calling him a “highly biased opinionated person” who is “selectively critical on the social media on the important policies, initiatives and directions of the government”.
Rejecting the objection, the collegium responded in January that the views on social media attributed to Sundaresan do not furnish any foundation to infer that he is biased or has a particular political leaning, especially when these issues were in the public domain and had been extensively deliberated upon in the print and electronic media.
“All citizens have the right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Expression of views by a candidate does not disentitle him to hold a constitutional office so long as the person proposed for judgeship is a person of competence, merit and integrity,” it further emphasised .
Sundaresan has specialized in commercial law and is expected to be an asset to the Bombay high court which has a large volume of cases of commercial and securities laws. The collegium’s January resolution called him a person who possesses high integrity, honesty, skill, high order of emotional stability, firmness, serenity, legal soundness, ability and endurance, and who deserves to be appointed as judge of the Bombay high court.
On the same day, the collegium had also pushed for the appointment of advocate R John Sathyan as a judge of the Madras high court, whose elevation was sought to be stalled by the government over the sharing two posts on social media. One of these posts was an article critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the second one pertained to a girl student committing suicide in 2017 since she was unable to clear NEET.
Turning down the government’s objection, the collegium had at the time pointed out that not onlyhad all the consultee judges expressed a favourable opinion about Sathyan’s suitability, the Intelligence Bureau too had reported that he enjoyed a good personal and professional image and that nothing adverse hadcome to notice against his integrity or his political leanings. Sathyan belongs to the Christian community, the collegium had further underscored.
While Sathyan is yet to be appointed by the government, Sundaresan’s name has been cleared at a time when the top court has repeatedly cautioned the government against selective decisions on appointment of judges.
As a bench led by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul continues monitoring the status of collegium’s recommendations, it has over the last three hearings flagged the court’s concerns over what it termed “pick and choose” by the government in appointing and transferring high court judges.
On November 20, the court observed that selective decisions on appointment of judges by the Centre “sends a wrong signal”, continuing the long-running standoff between the judiciary and the executive on a timeline for appointment to constitutional courts. It had on the day also implored the government not to segregate names from a batch of recommendations made by the collegium. The court further asked attorney general R Venkataramani to inform it on December 5 about the status of the appointment of five reiterated names. Sundaresan was one of the five.
On September 26, the justice Kaul-bench decided to monitor the steps taken by the Centre in acting on the collegium’s recommendations for appointing and transferring judges, expressing its anguish at the delays.
When the matter was taken up next on October 9, the court observed that the collegium’s recommendations could not remain in “limbo”, emphasising that instead of sitting on them indefinitely, the government must either notify those appointments or send them back citing specific objections.
During the next hearing on November 7, the bench said that the government must stop picking and choosing from a set of collegium’s recommendations, adding that the “business of selective appointments has become troublesome” when an “element of workable trust” was required between the executive and judiciary.
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