New Delhi, Publish Date: Apr 27 2018
The government today turned down a Supreme Court collegium proposal to elevate Justice K M Joseph to the top court, saying his promotion may not be “appropriate” and needs to be reconsidered, a decision that evoked sharp reactions from legal fraternity and opposition parties.
The government’s stand on 59-year-old Joseph, Uttrakhand High Court Chief Justice who has over two years of service left, is being seen as widening of the rift between the executive and the judiciary, which have been at loggerheads over issues like appointment and transfer of judges.
However, the government received immediate support from the collegium head, Chief Justice Dipak Misra, who said the executive was well within its rights to reject Justice Joseph’s name while accepting the second name even though both were recommended for elevation together by the collegium. The names of Malhotra and Justice Joseph were recommended by the collegium in January.
In a letter to Justice Misra, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government’s decision that the collegium should reconsider its proposal for Justice Joseph’s elevation has approval of the President and the Prime Minister. Making its case, Prasad also flagged that the SCs/STs have no representation in the apex court since long while Kerala High Court, Joseph’s parent court, is sufficiently represented in the top judiciary.
The last Dalit judge in the Supreme Court was K G Balakrishnan, who retired as Chief Justice of India in May 2010.
Prasad said the proposed appointment of Joseph “at this stage does not appear to be appropriate” and it would also not be “fair and justified to other more senior, suitable and deserving Chief Justices” and senior judges of various High Courts.
The government’s decision evoked sharp reactions with the SC Bar Association President Vikas Singh terming it as “disturbing” and the main opposition party, Congress, asserting that the independence of the judiciary “is in danger” and asking if it would now speak in one voice that “enough is enough”.
In theory, the collegium can still reject the government’s proposal and re-send Justice Joseph’s name to the Law Ministry, which can then decide the future action.
In his six-page letter this morning, Prasad said Justice Joseph is placed at number 42 in the all-India high court judges seniority list and also there are 11 chief justices senior to him.
Prasad also said the high courts of Calcutta, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Maniur and Meghalaya have no representation in the top court.
Quoting two SC judgements, the letter also said that senior HC judges should entertain hopes of elevation to the SC and the CJI and the collegium should bear this in mind.
While recommending the name of Justice Joseph, the collegium had said that he is “more deserving and suitable in all respects”.( PTI )