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Centre backs down on appointment of judges, clears 4 names recommended by SC

The Centre had last month returned the Supreme Court collegium’s recommendation to elevate Jharkhand high court Chief Justice Bose and Gauhati high court Chief Justice Bopanna, asking the body to rethink its decision.

india Updated: May 22, 2019 23:51 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Supreme Court,SC judges,Chief justice
The names of Justices Bose and Bopanna were earlier returned by the government to the SC collegium citing seniority and representation of regions as the reasons. (Amal KS/HT PHOTO)

The Centre on Wednesday cleared the names of four judges to be elevated to the Supreme Court, a week after the collegium disagreed with the department of justice for the second time in a year over the issue of judicial appointments.

With the appointments of justices Aniruddha Bose, AS Bopanna, BR Gavai and Surya Kant, the number of judges in the apex court will go up to a full strength of 31.

A government notification said the four new SC judges will take oath on Friday at 10.30am.

The Centre had last month returned the Supreme Court collegium’s recommendation to elevate Jharkhand high court Chief Justice Bose and Gauhati high court Chief Justice Bopanna, asking the body to rethink its decision. On May 8, however, the collegium – a body of the SC’s top five judges headed by the Chief Justice of India – reiterated its April 12 recommendation to appoint them.

Following the government’s objection, the collegium said in its resolution that it kept in mind the twin parameters of seniority and merit while recommending the names.

“Since nothing adverse regarding competence, conduct or integrity of Justices Aniruddha Bose and AS Bopanna, has been pointed out”, their appointment was reiterated, according to the resolution.

On the same day, the collegium also cleared the appointments of justice Gavai, a judge of the Bombay high court, and justice Kant, Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court.

Recommending the two other names, the collegium resolution said: “While recommending the names of Mr Justice Bhushan Ramkrishna Gavai and Mr Justice Surya Kant, the collegium has taken into consideration combined seniority on all-India basis of Chief Justices and senior Judges of high courts, apart from their competence, conduct and integrity. The collegium has also kept in mind the desirability of giving due representation on the bench of the Supreme Court, as far as possible, to all the high courts as well as to all sections of the society, including those belonging to SC/ST/OBC categories, women and minorities.”

On the issue of seniority of justice Gavai, the collegium said: “His recommendation, in no way, is to be misconstrued to mean that three senior-most Judges from Bombay High Court (two of whom are serving as Chief Justices) are less suitable than Mr. Justice Gavai.”

With justice Gavai’s appointment, the Supreme Court will have a judge belonging to the Scheduled Caste on the bench after a gap of a decade.

The developments come after the Centre had in April last year returned a file recommending justice KM Joseph’s appointment, which was first cleared by the collegium in January 2018. The government had contended that justice Joseph was not senior enough and that the Kerala high court, his parent HC, was adequately represented.

His name was reiterated by the collegium in July, eventually leading to the government clearing his appointment. The seniority issue is particularly important, if a judge is line to become the future CJI.

The SC and the government have been sparring over appointments ever since the apex court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) bill in 2015 that said all appointments to the higher judiciary would be made by the NJAC.

Advocate Viplav Sharma said, “ it s a welcome development that the supreme court will function at full strength. This will help in faster disposal of cases.”

The government had passed the bill in 2014. Subsequently, the two sides decided to agree to a Memorandum of Procedure on judicial appointments that would address gaps in the collegium system. Not much has progressed on this front.

First Published: May 22, 2019 16:00 IST