The Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has taken up the issue of Centre splitting up Collegium recommendations by withholding assent to certain names selectively, reports the Economic Times. As per the ET Report, the CJI has raised the issue with the Prime Minister.
“The splitting up of recommendations is a matter of serious concern, and the CJI has taken it up with the PM,” an unnamed source revealed to the Economic Times. The SC Collegium under CJI Gogoi has reportedly decided to review all cases where the names cleared by it were held back by the ministry, and also those proposals which were reiterated but are still pending with the government for issuance of warrant of appointment
The latest instance of Centre's segregation of Collegium proposal is Advocate P V Kunhikrishnan, who was recommended by the SC Collegium for appointment as judge of High Court of Kerala. On October 9, the Collegium had forwarded five names for appointment as judges in the High Court of Kerala. The notification issued by the Centre on November 1 however dealt with appointment of only four judges, conspicuously omitting the name of P V Kunhikrishnan.
This happened with proposals for Delhi High Court as well, when the Centre withheld clearance of Senior Advocate Manoj Ohri’s name while accepting four other names who were jointly recommended along with Ohri by the Collegium.
The most glaring instance of segregation was that of Justice K M Joseph. His name was recommended for elevation by the SC Collegium in January 2018 along with Justice Indu Malhotra. Three months later, the Centre accepted the name of only Justice Indu Malhotra. Justice Joseph's appointment was notified on August 3, after the SC Collegium reiterated his name.
In 2014, the Government had split up Collegium recommendations by withholding assent to proposal of Senior Advocate Gopal Subramanium. The then CJI R.M Lodha had criticised the Government for dropping the name of Gopal Subramanium from the list of Collegium recommended judges. Justice Lodha felt that the Government dropped Gopal Subramanium’s name without consulting the Collegium. But before the Collegium could reiterate his name, Gopal Subramanium withdrew his consent.
CJI Gogoi has also taken up the issue of Centre sitting over Collegium recommendations for months, and in some cases years. Last Friday, the CJI said in open Court that about 39 names were awaiting clearance from Centre. The CJI also added that he will address this issue on the administrative side. The remarks of the CJI came while hearing a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause seeking to direct the Centre to clear the pending recommendations.
An example of Centre's delay is the case of Justice Surya Kant Shukla, who was recommended for appointment as CJ of Himachal Pradesh HC in January 2018. The Centre notified the appointment only after nine months.
At the same time, the Centre acted with promptness in case of recommendations of four CJs- Justices Hemant Gupta, Subhash Reddy, M R Shah and Ajay Rastogi- for elevation to SC last week. Within 48 hours of SC collegium recommendations, the Centre notified their appointments. The CJI commented later that he was surprised by the speed with which Government acted.
There are also several instances where the Centre has acted against the rule that a name re-recommended by the Collegium should be compulsorily cleared by the Centre.
The names of Bashrat Ali Khan and Mohammed Mansoor were recommended by SC Collegium for elevation as judges of Allahabad High Court in 2016. Centre pointed out certain allegations against them. However, they were found to be frivolous by the Collegium, and their names were reiterated within few days. After sitting over the files for nearly two years, in June 2018, the Centre rejected the reiteration of Bashrat Ali Khan and Mohammed Mansoor, in clear violation of law laid down in Second Judges Case.
On April 19, the Centre made outright rejection of the Collegium's reiteration of the proposal to make Justice Ramendra Jain a permanent judge of Punjab & Haryana High Court. Instead, it merely extended the term of Justice Ramendra Jain, in blatant disregard of the law laid down in Second Judges Case that Collegium's reiteration of proposal is absolutely binding on the Centre. Justice Jain was finally made permanent by the Centre on October 8.
Also, the names of Mohammed Nizamuddin and Harnaresh Singh Gill were recommended by Collegium for appointment as judges of Calcutta High Court and Punjab & Haryana High Court, respectively. Ignoring Collegium's proposals, the Centre rejected them, without assigning any reasons. Harnaresh Gill's name was re-recommended by the Collegium on August 1, stating that the centre returned his name without stating any reasons. But the centre is yet to act on the re-recommendation.
CJI Ranjan Gogoi looks determined to address these issues.