Former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha on Thursday spoke against the government’s alleged “interference in the judiciary” and criticised incumbent Dipak Misra’s role in the situation, The Indian Express reported. Another former chief justice, TS Thakur, described the government’s rejection of the Supreme Court collegium’s nomination of Justice KM Joseph as unfortunate.
On Thursday, the Centre had cleared the collegium’s recommendation that senior advocate Indu Malhotra be appointed a Supreme Court judge, but held back the elevation of Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice KM Joseph. The decision drew criticism from the legal community and Opposition parties, including the Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist). According to The Indian Express, two other former chief justices and four former Supreme Court judges have also expressed their disappointment at the Centre’s decision.
Justice KM Joseph had headed the three-judge Uttarakhand High Court bench that had quashed the Centre’s decision to impose President’s Rule in the state in 2016. Several reports have linked that decision to the government blocking his transfer to Andhra Pradesh and his elevation to the Supreme Court.
“What governments do by segregating recommendations, is [to] throw plans of the Collegium for seniority or ensuring a certain succession of future chief justices out of the window,” Lodha told The Indian Express. “By simply sitting over the file for weeks and then picking one and not the other, a whole new succession comes into play. This is interference in the judiciary, apart from, of course, rejecting names that the government doesn’t find favourable.”
Lodha said Misra should immediately call for a meeting of the collegium and take up the matter with the government. “The Chief Justice cannot sit over the file either, indefinitely, as cannot the government.”
Former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court Justice AP Shah said the collegium’s authority was being compromised. “I am a bit surprised that the CJI said in open court that there was nothing wrong in the government returning the file,” Shah told The Indian Express.
The Union law ministry reportedly wanted to approve Malhotra’s appointment but not Joseph’s, citing “breach of seniority”, and so sent the recommendations back to Misra without forwarding them to President Ram Nath Kovind. However, if the collegium reiterates Joseph’s name for appointment, the government will have no option but to issue a warrant sanctioning it.
The criticism over the the rejection of Joseph’s recommendation comes amid the controversy surrounding the Congress-led Opposition’s submission of a motion in the Rajya Sabha last week to impeach Misra, citing misbehaviour. Rajya Sabha Chairperson Venkaiah Naidu rejected the motion on Monday. It had included five charges against Misra, but Naidu dismissed them saying the allegations were “mere suspicion, conjecture or an assumption”.