The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms on Tuesday condemned the decision of the Supreme Court collegium to not disclose why it recommended the transfer of Madras High Court Chief Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani to the Meghalaya High Court. Tahilramani had last week resigned after the collegium rejected her request for the transfer to be reconsidered.
After the transfer was criticised, the Supreme Court had issued a statement on September 12, saying that each recommendation for transfer “was made for cogent reasons” with due procedure “in the interest of better administration of justice”. “Though it would not be in the interest of the institution to disclose the reasons for transfer, if found necessary, the Collegium will have no hesitation in disclosing the same,” the statement read. “Further each of the recommendations was made after full and complete deliberations and the same were unanimously agreed upon by the Collegium.”
The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms said that Tahilramani’s transfer has lowered the public’s confidence in the judiciary further. “It is incumbent upon the collegium to make clear the reasons for such transfer and dispel any doubts about its independence and fairness,” the group said. “Refusing to do so serves no institutional purpose and instead weakens the institution of the judiciary by making it less transparent.”
The group urged the top court to restore the faith in the judiciary by “immediately disclosing the reasons for transfer of High Court judges and resolving to disclose detailed reasons for all transfers in the future”. Several judges had been transferred by the collegium on August 28.
Tahilramani, who was the senior most High Court judge in the country, was reportedly upset about the sudden transfer to a much smaller High Court. While in the Bombay High Court in May 2017, she had upheld the convictions in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case. She was due to retire from service on October 2, 2020.
The lawyers’ group also expressed concern at the Supreme Court’s “inadequate response” to a controversial statement by Uttar Pradesh minister Mukut Bihari Vera in context of the Ayodhya case. Vera had last week said that the Ram temple would be constructed in Ayodhya as the “Supreme Court is ours”.
On Thursday, a Constitution bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said that it deprecated such statements, adding: “This should not be happening in the country. Both sides are free to put their arguments before court without any fear.”
In its statement, the CJAR said that Vera’s remark had “raised doubts in the minds of average citizens about the independence and neutrality of the court...and a strong institutional response was needed”. “However the verbal observation of the court during the Ayodhya case has fallen far short,” the statement read. “More so when the court was very quick to issue contempt notice to a political leader belonging to the opposition for misquoting its judgement in the Rafale papers case.”
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