New Delhi: Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde has written a letter to the central government, giving it four weeks to provide additional information on advocate Saurabh Kirpal whose name was recommended for elevation as a judge of the Delhi High Court in 2017.
The letter, sources told ThePrint, was written almost two weeks ago, following a collegium meet on 2 March that deliberated on Kirpal’s name.
ThePrint had on 7 March reported about the collegium’s decision to write to the Centre, asking it to send expeditiously additional inputs on Kirpal, which the previous collegium had requisitioned, so that a final decision could be taken soon on his elevation.
Kirpal’s name was discussed during the 2 March meeting between CJI Bobde and the two other collegium members — Justices N.V. Ramana and R.F. Nariman — but the collegium deferred its decision until it received inputs from the government.
This was the fourth time Kirpal’s name was deferred ever since he was unanimously recommended by the Delhi High Court collegium in October 2017.
His name was among 18 of the 23 proposals, pending with the collegium for long, that were taken up on 2 March. These included some names that were sent back by the Centre for reconsideration and those that were deferred by the collegium earlier for want of more information on the candidates.
CJI Bobde seeks clarity
Sources in SC told ThePrint that CJI Bobde has, through his letter, asked Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to give more clarity on the government’s objection to Kirpal’s name.
The Supreme Court has been unable to take a concrete decision on Kirpal’s appointment, even though it had in September 2018 read down Section 377, which criminalised consensual sex between homosexual adults.
In an interview to ThePrint last September, Kirpal, who is gay, had said he believes that his sexual orientation is probably the reason why the three-member Supreme Court collegium has not taken a decision on his elevation. It was the first time the advocate had spoken out on the issue.
The government has officially not spoken against Kirpal’s sexual orientation, but had expressed reservation over his partner being a foreigner. This was highlighted in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) report, which the government had forwarded to the SC collegium after it received the recommendation on Kirpal from the Delhi High Court in October 2017.
The IB had trawled through Kirpal’s Facebook account and attached his picture with his “foreign” partner. None of the pictures were offensive or objectionable, though, and there was no direct objection to his elevation. However, the IB report had said that the lawyer’s foreign partner could pose a security risk.
This IB report was considered on 1 April 2019 by a collegium then led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi and comprising present CJI Bobde and Justice Ramana, who will take over as the next CJI on 23 April.
It had then deferred its decision, for the third time, preferring to seek additional information from the government in the wake of IB inputs on Kirpal.
“In view of an earlier collegium opinion to seek more information about him, the (current) collegium during its meeting on 2 March felt it would be appropriate to wait for the inputs. The CJI suggested writing a letter to the Centre,” the source added.
CJI Bobde’s letter to the law minister also reminds him of the earlier letter sent to him pursuant to the April 2019 collegium meet.
As decided by the current collegium, CJI Bobde has given a four-week deadline to the government to respond.
“It was the collegium that unanimously agreed not to wait for long. The members were of the view that if the government fails to respond within a reasonable period, then the collegium should move on with its decision,” the source added.
However, a meeting in the immediate future is bleak, considering CJI Bobde is set to demit office on 23 April. “There is no rule that prohibits the outgoing CJI to convene the collegium, but as per the convention the CJI who is about to retire prefers not to preside over such meetings,” said the source.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)