This is the first recommendation for the Supreme Court by the collegium under new Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court collegium Monday recommended four chief justices of high courts for elevation to the apex court.
The development, reported by the Hindustan Times, will take the Supreme Court’s strength to 28, against a sanctioned strength of 31 judges, for at least two months as two judges — Justices Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph — are set to retire during this period.
The report said the names of Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court, R. Subhash Reddy, the Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, Hemant Gupta, the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court, M.R. Shah, and the Chief Justice of Tripura High Court, Ajay Rastogi, have been recommended by the collegium.
The recommendations are a first made by the collegium, comprised of the five top judges in the apex court, under the new Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi. They come in less than a month of him having assumed office.
However, the decision had not been made public till the filing of this report.
Two of the recommended names, Justices Shah and Gupta, have been dogged by controversy.
Shah, who was appointed as a judge of the Gujarat High Court in 2004, drew criticism in August this year for hailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “model and hero”.
Shah’s transfer from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh was also mired in controversy. In 2016, the collegium led by then CJI T.S. Thakur had recommended transferring Shah to the Madhya Pradesh High Court but the Modi government sat on the file without formally rejecting it.
Yatin Oza, a Gujarat-based senior advocate had written to Thakur, alleging that Shah was not being transferred due to his proximity to PM Modi and BJP President Amit Shah.
The government eventually returned the file when Thakur retired and his successor J.S. Khehar had taken over. Shah continued to serve in Gujarat as the number 2 judge till he was appointed the chief justice of Patna High Court in August this year.
Justice Gupta was earlier linked to an Enforcement Directorate probe — the agency was looking into money laundering allegations against his wife Alka Gupta.
In making the four recommendations, the collegium has also reiterated its decision to make recommendations holistically, taking into account all factors instead of strictly applying the seniority rule.
Justice Pradeep Nandrajog, who has been the chief justice of Rajasthan since April 2017, ranks higher in seniority to Shah and Rastogi. While Shah has been chief justice of a high court for just two months, Rastogi was appointed as chief justice of Tripura High Court in March this year.
Sources, however, told ThePrint that the collegium has not taken a decision on Nandrajog because his parent high court, Delhi, already has adequate representation in the apex court. Supreme Court judges Sanjay Kishan Kaul, A.K. Sikri and Madan B. Lokur are from the Delhi High Court.
The Modi government had attempted to stall the elevation of Justice K.M. Joseph, arguing that the collegium had overlooked the “seniority criteria” while elevating him. Justice Joseph’s appointment came through after an eight-month bitter turf war between the executive and the judiciary.
It is to be seen if the government will use the same yardstick for Shah and Rastogi.
While reiterating Justice Joseph’s name, the collegium had argued that all factors such as seniority, merit, regional representation will be considered while making recommendations.