A recommendation from the incumbent is pretty much the last step before the appointment of a candidate as India’s top judge.
New Delhi: Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Kumar Misra has recommended the name of the Supreme Court’s most senior judge, Ranjan Gogoi, to take over as his successor after he retires 2 October.
ThePrint had first reported last week the Narendra Modi government’s decision to appoint Justice Gogoi as the next CJI. The decision was based on inputs that there is nothing on Gogoi’s record that goes against his elevation.
The law ministry was awaiting the incumbent CJI’s formal recommendation before processing Gogoi’s appointment.
Top sources in the government had told ThePrint that the appointment of the next CJI was discussed at the highest levels a few days ago and it was felt that the principle of seniority should be “strictly followed” in picking a successor to the current CJI.
The Modi government is aware of the fact that denying the top post to Justice Gogoi would only give credence to the repeated charge by the opposition, especially the Congress, that the Narendra Modi government has been making concerted efforts to subjugate the judiciary.
There has been intense speculation that Justice Gogoi could be superseded after he and three other senior judges of the court — Jasti Chelameswar (now retired), Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — held an unprecedented press conference on 12 January.
The four had highlighted the trust deficit between CJI Misra and his brother judges and accused the Centre of making attempts to curb the independence of the judiciary.
They had also pointed out that CJI Misra was taking away politically-sensitive cases from senior judges and assigning them to junior ones.
Under the memorandum of procedure (MoP), which guides appointments in the higher judiciary, the appointment to the office of the Chief Justice of India “should be of the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court considered fit to hold the office”.
The law minister first writes to the outgoing CJI, requesting him to recommend the name of his successor. Normally, this letter is sent about a month before the CJI is scheduled to demit office.
Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is currently on an official visit to the US. “There is still time. Don’t worry, orders will be issued in time,” said the source.
While the CJI, in case there is “doubt about the fitness of the senior-most judge to hold the office of the CJI”, can hold consultations with other judges before sending his recommendation, under the Constitution, the recommendation means little.
As first reported by ThePrint, the MoP is not a statutory document and can’t override the provisions of law on the appointment of judges.