Appointment of CJs to 8 HCs gets collegium’s nod
The Supreme Court collegium has cleared the appointment of regular chief justices in eight high courts across the country in an important move aimed at making administration of constitutional courts more efficient. At present, eight out of 25 high courts were working without regular chief justices.
The collegium, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, also set in motion a major shake-up by recommending the transfer of five chief justices, besides reshuffling 28 other judges of the high courts, according to people familiar with the development.
One of these judges is justice Akil Kureshi, who will move from his current position of chief justice of Tripura high court to head the larger Rajasthan high court. Justice Kureshi was not picked by the Supreme Court collegium last month, when it elevated nine high court judges to the top court. It was his pending elevation that led to an unprecedented impasse of 21 months in the collegium, when not a single name was recommended by it to the government. This also resulted in making justice SA Bobde the only CJI who retired after a tenure of 17 months without making recommendation for a single appointment in the top court after the advent of the collegium system in 1990s.
The collegium’s latest decision comes a fortnight after the elevation of nine judges to the Supreme Court. The collegium, which includes justices Uday Lalit, AM Khanwilkar, Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, created a record of sorts by having nine judges, including three women judges, appointed to the top court in one go on August 31. These appointments took the strength of total judges in the Supreme Court to 33 out of the 34 sanctioned posts.
Demonstrating the collective resolve of the five most senior judges of the apex court, the collegium has recommended a total of 82 names for appointment in various high courts since April, when justice Ramana took the helm.
People cited above told HT that the high courts that will get regular chief justices include Allahabad HC (justice Rajesh Bindal), Calcutta HC (justice Prakash Srivastava), Chhattisgarh HC (Arup Kumar Goswami), Gujarat HC (justice Aravind Kumar), Himachal Pradesh HC (justice Mohd Rafiq), Karnataka HC (justice Ritu Raj Awasthi), Sikkim HC (justice Biswanath Somadder) and Telangana HC (justice Satish Chandra Sharma).
In absence of regular chiefs, acting chief justices take over the responsibilities of the top judge of the state judiciary as a temporary arrangement.
Three out of eight vacancies in high courts arose after the sitting chief justices of Telangana HC (justice Hima Kohli), Karnataka HC (justice Abhay S Oka) and Sikkim HC (justice Dinesh Maheshwari) were elevated as Supreme Court justices. These high courts got their acting chief justices on August 31. The other five HCs were without regular chiefs for several months.
Justice Bindal, the acting chief justice of Calcutta HC since April 29, is now being transferred as the regular chief justice of Allahabad HC. Justice Bindal headed the bench in the Calcutta HC that ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the post-poll violence in West Bengal. A section of lawyers were demanding the transfer of Justice Bindal, alleging bias.
The Chhattisgarh high court had an acting chief justice since June 1, while the Allahabad high court had an acting chief justice since June 26. Even before June 26, the Allahabad HC had an acting chief justice who performed the duty just for 13 days. The Himachal Pradesh high court was without a regular chief since July 1 and the Gujarat high court had an acting chief justice since September 2.
The four chief justices transferred from one high court to another, other than justice Kureshi, include justice Arup Kumar Gowasmi (from Andhra Pradesh HC to Chhattisgarh HC); justice Rafiq (from Madhya Pradesh HC to Himachal Pradesh HC); justice Indrajit Mohanty (from Rajasthan HC to Tripura HC), and justice Biswanath Somadder (from Meghalaya HC to Sikkim HC). Madhya Pradesh HC will now be headed by justice RV Malimath, who was the acting chief justice of Himachal Pradesh HC, while justice Ranjit V More will take over as the chief justice of Meghalaya high court.
The 28 judges transferred from one high court to another include six from Allahabad HC, three from Punjab & Haryana HC, two from Rajasthan HC, two from Himachal Pradesh HC, two from Calcutta HC, and two from Telangana high court.
On September 4, speaking at a function organised by the Bar Council of India (BCI), CJI Ramana highlighted how the collegium was collectively making efforts to address the issue of vacancies in the higher judiciary on an urgent basis.
Putting on record his appreciation for the other members of the collegium, justice Ramana said that it was only due to these collective efforts that the vacancy in the Supreme Court has been reduced to one judge while 82 names have been recommended for appointment in various high courts since April.
“I hope the government will ensure that the names are cleared at the earliest just the way the 9 names were cleared for the apex court. It is an ongoing process. We hope to live up to the herculean challenge of filling nearly 41% vacancies existing in all the high courts,” justice Ramana added.
The CJI’s remarks came less than a week after the collegium recommended 68 names for appointment in total across 12 high courts. This was the highest number of names recommended for appointment as high court judges.
The sanctioned strength of judges across 25 high courts in India is 1,098. Of these, 465 posts (more than 42% of total strength) were vacant as of September 1. The name recommended by the collegium will be forwarded to the Union government, which has to notify them.