Senior advocate Indu Malhotra took oath as a Supreme Court judge on Friday, making her the first woman lawyer to be elevated directly to the post, PTI reported. The law ministry had notified Malhotra’s appointment on Thursday, more than three months after the Supreme Court collegium of five senior-most judges had recommended Uttarakhand Chief Justice KM Joseph and her name for elevation to the country’s highest court.
Malhotra is the seventh woman judge in the top court’s history.
Her appointment, however, has sparked a controversy because the Centre has not yet cleared Joseph’s appointment. The move to block his name drew criticism from the legal community, the Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist). Former Chief Justice RM Lodha said the development was an indicator of Centre’s interference in the judiciary.
In a letter to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, the law ministry asked the collegium to reconsider Joseph’s appointment, saying that 11 High Court chief justices were senior to Joseph, and none of those courts had representations in the Supreme Court at present.
The government said that such “segregation” of proposals – different decisions on names recommended by the collegium simultaneously – had been “done in many cases earlier”.
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. Since then his transfer to Andhra Pradesh and elevation to the top court have been blocked by the government.
On Thursday, senior advocate Indira Jaising had appealed to Misra to not swear in Malhotra as a Supreme Court judge until the Centre cleared Joseph’s name for appointment.
Dipak Misra said he would not stay Malhotra’s appointment, adding that it was “unthinkable, unimaginable and inconceivable”, News18 reported. He, however, added that there was nothing wrong if the government wanted the collegium to reconsider Joseph’s name. If the collegium sticks to its decision to elevate Joseph, the government will have no option but to issue a warrant sanctioning it.
On April 9, Supreme Court Justice Kurian Joseph wrote to Misra and urged the Supreme Court to act against the government’s delay in approving the two appointments to the top court despite the collegium’s recommendation.