Two high court chief justices to retire within a month of taking charge

The chief justices of Manipur and Meghalaya high courts were among the five chief justices of high courts whose names were cleared by the Supreme Court collegium — a body of top judges that makes appointments to the higher judiciary — on January 10.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2018 23:06 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Jatin Gandhi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
high courts,Supreme Court Collegium,Meghalaya high court
The Supreme Court collegium, a body of top judges, is responsible for making appointments to the higher judiciary. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The first woman chief justice of the Manipur high court, Abhilasha Kumari, who took oath on February 9, will retire on February 22, and justice Tarun Agarwala, who took oath as the chief justice of Meghalaya on February 12, will end his term on March 2, an official in the law ministry said on Monday.

The two, who will effectively get less than a month at the helms of their respective high courts, were among the five chief justices of high courts whose names were cleared by the Supreme Court collegium — a body of top judges that makes appointments to the higher judiciary — on January 10 and notified by the law ministry on February 6, according to information released by the Supreme Court and the ministry.

Another chief justice appointed on February 6, justice Antony Dominic, who heads the Kerala high court, is slated to retire on May 29.

Their retirements will once again trigger the process of appointing fresh incumbents — which is likely to take several weeks, the ministry official said.

Meanwhile, the appointments of chief justices of five high courts — Telangana & Andhra Pradesh, Calcutta, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh — which are currently headed by acting chief justices — have not been notified though they were cleared by the collegium at the same meeting on January 10.

The high courts of Bombay and Jharkhand, too, are functioning under acting chief justices.

Another official in the law ministry privy to the process said the government was “not likely to clear these appointments in the coming days”.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.

Experts hold both the collegium and the government responsible for the delays in filling up these crucial vacancies and demand that the revised Memorandum of Procedure for appointing judges be finalised by both sides “at the earliest”.

Former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha said: “The present system does not seem to be working for the benefit of the people. The SC has clearly said in the Second Judge case that the process of filing up judges’ vacancies should begin six months before the vacancy arises but the timelines prescribed are not being adhered to.”

There are 24 high courts in the country, with some of them catering to more than one state. “The posts of chief justices should not be vacant even for a day. It is a very important office in that system but unfortunately it is not being seen that way,” Justice Lodha added.

A ministry official said that former law minister Veerappa Moily had written to the CJI in June 2010 during the United Progressive Alliance regime at the Centre, asking for only those judges to be appointed as chief justices who had more than six months of service left, but the suggestion was not followed.

Moily said: “In the normal course, it should not be done (that someone with less than six months’ service is appointed as chief justice). We tried to ensure equity by clearing appointments at the earliest.”

A former SC collegium member, who did not wish to be identified, said: “The government’s suggestion would have denied those who were due for elevation their legitimate right.”

Judicial reforms expert Sumathi Chandrashekharan said both the government and the judiciary “have shown a degree of stubbornness and not adhered to the direction (of the SC) that appointments should be a consultative and collaborative process.”

First Published: Feb 19, 2018 23:28 IST