The Supreme Court Collegium has brushed aside the reservations of the government over its decision to elevate Uttarakhand Chief Justice K M Joseph to the apex court as a judge and reiterated his name along with two other recommendations. The Collegium said “nothing adverse” regarding “suitability” of Justice Joseph has been pointed out in two letters of Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. It also recommended the names of Chief Justice of Madras High Court Indira Banerjee and Orissa High Court Chief Justice Vineet Saran for appointment as Supreme Court judges.
The five-member Collegium headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on January 10 had for the first time cleared the name of Justice Joseph, who was part of the bench which in 2016 had quashed the imposition of President’s rule by the NDA government in the hill state, for the judge of the apex court. However, the government had on April 26 returned the Collegium’s recommendation to elevate Justice Joseph seeking its reconsideration, saying the proposal was not in accordance with the top court’s parameters and there was adequate representation of Kerala in the higher judiciary from where he hails.
It had also questioned his seniority for elevation as a judge of the apex court. Earlier, the Collegium on May 16 had favoured “further deliberation” and “broad-based consideration” of names of chief justices of various high courts before sending its decision reiterating the elevation of Justice Joseph as a judge of the top court.
The Collegium, also comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A K Sikri, met on July 16 and reiterated to recommend the Uttarakhand Chief Justice as the judge of the apex court. Justice Sikri has replaced Justice J Chelameswar, who retired on June 22 and was member of the Collegium when Justice Joseph’s name was recommended for elevation as the judge of the apex court along with Justice Indu Malhotra. Malhotra was sworn in as an apex court judge on April 27.
The Collegium’s July 16 resolution uploaded today on the Supreme Court website stated, “We have carefully considered the observations made by the Law Minister in his letters dated April 26, 2018 and April 30, 2018 addressed to the Chief Justice of India referring back, for reconsideration, the recommendation made by us on January 10, 2018 for appointment of Justice K M Joseph, Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, as Judge of the Supreme Court.”
“The Collegium, on due consideration of all the aspects mentioned in the aforesaid two letters, resolves to reiterate the aforementioned recommendation, especially since nothing adverse regarding suitability of Justice K M Joseph has been pointed out in the aforesaid letters,” the resolution said.
In the January 10 collegium meeting, it was stated that Justice Joseph stands at serial number 45 in the combined seniority of high court judges on all-India basis. When the Centre was averse to accept the recommendation to elevate Justice Joseph, justices Chelameswar and Kurian Joseph wrote strong letters to the CJI and came out in public criticising the delay in his appointment. While deliberating on the names for the apex court judges, the Collegium noted that against the sanctioned strength of 31 judges, the Supreme Court was currently functioning with 22 judges, leaving 9 clear vacancies.
The resolution said while recommending the name of justices Banerjee and Saran, the Collegium has taken into consideration combined seniority on all-India basis of chief justices and senior puisne judges of high courts, apart from their merit and integrity. “We, therefore, recommend that Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Vineet Saran, be appointed as Judges in the Supreme Court of India,” it said. If the Centre clears the name of Justice Banerjee, the apex court would have three women judges.
At present, Justices R Banumathi and Indu Malhotra are the two woman judges in the apex court. Justice Banerjee would become the eight woman judge in the history of the Supreme Court. The resolution stated that the Collegium considered that at present justices Banerjee and Saran were deserving and suitable in all respects than other chief justices and senior puisne judges of high courts for being appointed as judges of the Supreme Court.
It said Justice Banerjee was appointed as a judge of the Calcutta High Court on February 5, 2002 and was transferred to Delhi HC on August 8, 2016. She was elevated as Chief Justice of Madras HC on April 5, 2017 and has been functioning there since then. She stands at Sl. No.4 in the combined seniority of High Court Judges on all-India basis. Justice Saran was appointed as a judge of the Allahabad High Court on February 14, 2002 and was transferred to Karnataka High Court on February 16, 2015.
He was elevated as Chief Justice of Orissa High Court on February 26, 2016 and has been functioning there since then. He stands at serial number 5 in the combined seniority of high court judges on all-India basis. Earlier, reports had said besides justices Banerjee and Saran, others who were in the race for elevation as apex court judges were Gujarat HC Chief Justice R Subhash Reddy, whose parent cadre is Telangana and Andhra Pradesh HC, and Karnataka HC Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, who is originally from Rajasthan HC.