Centre clears appointment of judge to Karnataka HC after delay of more than 3 years
The central government on Monday notified the appointment of judicial officer P Krishna Bhat as a judge of the Karnataka high court judge, almost four years after his name was recommended by the Supreme Court collegium.
During the period since Bhat’s name was first recommended on August 23, 2016, the Supreme Court collegium passed resolutions three times recommending his elevation, the latest on October 15, 2019.
“In exercise of the power conferred by clause (1) of Article 224 of the Constitution of India, the President is pleased to appoint Sri Panjigadde Krishna Bhat, to be an additional judge of the Karnataka High Court, for a period of two years with effect from the date he assumes charge of his office,” the notification appointing Bhat said, ending the deadlock between the Central government and the collegium.
Bhat’s name was recommended by the Karnataka high court’s collegium in February 2016. It was cleared by the Supreme Court collegium in August 2016, but was returned by the Central government, which cited a complaint filed against him by another judge in Karnataka.
The Supreme Court collegium stood by its recommendation and reiterated it through a resolution dated April 6, 2017. It was again reiterated on October 15, 2019, when the collegium went to the extent of directing the Central government to process the file on Bhat’s appointment “most expeditiously”.
While other Supreme Court collegium recommendations made in October 2019 to the Karnataka high court were processed by the Central government, Bhat’s appointment took another seven months.
The episode regarding Bhat’s appointment to the Karnataka high court generated a lot of attention, particularly after Justice Jasti Chelameswar, now retired, wrote a strongly worded letter in March 2018 to then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, objecting to what he considered as interference by the government with the elevation of Bhat. The letter said the executive was trying to impede Bhat’s appointment.
Bhat was embroiled in controversy in 2016 when a complaint was filed against him by another judge, MS Shashikala, when Bhat’s elevation was around the corner.
The complaint was investigated by the then Karnataka high court chief justice SK Mukherjee, who cleared Bhat and noted that while he was serving as district and sessions judge in 2014, he had sent a report to the high court about the alleged misconduct of Shashikala, who was then a first class judicial magistrate. Mukherjee stated in his report that Shashikala had made allegations against Bhat to malign him.
When the collegium recommended Bhat’s elevation to the Karnataka high court, the Central government sought a report from the high court chief justice on Bhat.
Justice Chelameswar, in his letter to Chief Justice Dipak Misra, objected to the same, stating there was no such instance in the past he could recollect when the executive bypassed the Supreme Court collegium regarding a recommendation made by the collegium and sought a report from the high court chief justice about the concerned judge, despite the fact that allegations against the judge had already been held to be false.
In 2018, the elevation of Justice KM Joseph to the Supreme Court had been delayed for nearly eight months before it was eventually notified in August 2018.
Former Chief Justice TS Thakur had broken down during a conference of chief ministers and chief justices in April 2016, citing the delay by the Central government in clearing names recommended by the collegium for appointment as judges.
High courts are functioning with only 64% of their sanctioned strength according to the latest figures released by the law ministry. As of May 1, there are only 694 judges in the 25 high courts, as against a sanctioned strength of 1,079, with 385 posts vacant.