The Centre followed a “transparent seniority principle” in elevating three judges to the Supreme Court, The Indian Express reported on Monday, quoting unidentified government officials. They added that both Justices Indira Banerjee and Vineet Saran were two-and-a-half years senior to Justice KM Joseph.
The judges’ appointment notification has placed Joseph in third position despite the fact that he was first person to be recommended for elevation in January. The three will take oath at 10.30 am on Tuesday.
On Monday, a few judges of the top court raised the matter with Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. The judges wanted Joseph to get his due position in the seniority list. “We said the CJI should look into the matter as Justice Joseph’s file for elevation to the Supreme Court was sent in January 2018, much before that of Justice Banerjee and Justice Saran,” one of the judges told the Hindustan Times. The chief justice reportedly consulted Attorney General KK Venugopal, who told him about the government’s position.
A few unidentified government officials said the Supreme Court judges’ concerns were baseless. “The government has only gone by a transparent seniority principle in this case,” said an official. “Justice Banerjee ranks number four in the all-India seniority list of High Court judges; Justice Saran ranks number five on the list; and Justice Joseph is at number 39 of the list.”
He added that Banerjee was appointed a High Court judge on February 5, 2002, Sharan on February 14, 2002, and Joseph on October 14, 2004. “Therefore, the first two are more than two-and-a-half years senior to justice Joseph,” he added. “It would have been completely improper, unreasonable and unfair to make high court judges two-and-a-half-years his senior as junior to him in the Supreme Court.”
The official argued that there was no logic behind the demand to grant Joseph a more senior position as his had been proposed first by the collegium. The collegium often defers recommendations sent by High Courts, he added. “Subsequently, their names are cleared for appointment. They cannot claim they should get seniority on the basis of the date of deferment.”
The Supreme Court collegium recommended Joseph for elevation in January. But the Centre returned his file, arguing that he was junior to several other High Court chief justices, who were waiting for a call to the apex court. It reasoned that Joseph’s parent High Court of Kerala was already adequately represented in the top court.