New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has sent back over a dozen names cleared by the Supreme Court collegium for elevation as high court judges, urging “reconsideration”, ThePrint has learnt.
Sources in the Supreme Court said the names were sent back over a period of time. While the government’s requests to reconsider some names were not accompanied by reasons at all, others were backed by “flimsy” reasons, the sources added.
“These names, which were sent back over a period of time and not in a single file, pertain to eight high courts and the government wants the collegium to reconsider its recommendation with regard to these names,” a source in the Supreme Court said.
“The Chief Justice of India and other members of the collegium will take a call on what to do with these cases,” the source added.
According to the source, the names sent back pertain to judicial appointments to eight high courts including those of Allahabad, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab & Haryana, Rajasthan, Madras, Kerala and Karnataka, all of which have multiple judicial vacancies.
As of 1 May 2020, according to government data, the Allahabad High Court had 57 vacancies, the J&K High Court had five vacancies, the Punjab & Haryana High Court had 29, Rajasthan had 25, Madras had 21, Kerala had 10 and Karnataka had 16.
‘Rejected without reason’
Among the notable cases sent back for reconsideration is that of advocate C. Emalias, who was first recommended for elevation as judge by the Madras High Court collegium on 19 December 2016. Emalias was one of 11 advocates recommended by the high court collegium to the Supreme Court collegium at the time.
The Supreme Court collegium cleared the names on 4 December 2017.
While the central government issued warrants of appointment for nine candidates, it asked the collegium to reconsider Emalias and another advocate, Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, on account of “complaints against them”, the source said.
On 1 August 2018, the collegium, then headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, found no merit in the complaints and said the “complaints placed in the file being devoid of merit, deserve to be ignored”. The collegium also asked the government to process their names “most expeditiously”.
Ramamoorthy’s name was subsequently cleared and he took oath as judge in February last year, but Emalias’ name was not processed by the central government.
Now, almost three and a half years after his name was first recommended for elevation, Emalias’ file has again been sent back to the collegium for a re-look, the source said.
Another such case is that of Jammu & Kashmir lawyer Wasim Sadiq Nargal, whose elevation was first recommended by the Jammu & Kashmir High Court collegium on 24 August 2017.
On 6 April 2018, the Supreme Court collegium cleared his name for appointment. But the central government, without assigning a strong reason, referred his name back to the Supreme Court collegium for reconsideration.
Miffed with the central government’s approach, the collegium asked it to “furnish specific information in detail on the basis of which the proposal for elevation… has been referred back for reconsideration”.
After sitting on the file for almost a year, the central government finally wrote back to the collegium saying it had nothing adverse against Nargal, and it was up to the court to take a call on his appointment.
“The collegium will take a call when it takes up his name,” said a Supreme Court source.
Another name sent back is that of Punjab and Haryana High Court lawyer Kamal Sehgal, who was recommended along with some other names.
He didn’t find favour with the Supreme Court collegium in an earlier round, but was subsequently cleared for elevation. However, the central government cleared the elevation of those recommended along with Sehgal, while keeping his case pending.
Now, the central government has sent his case back for reconsideration.
As first reported by ThePrint last year, there are indications that the government’s opposition to Sehgal could be based on the fact that he is the brother of Uttar Pradesh-cadre IAS office Navneet Sehgal, who was considered a favourite of both BSP chief Mayawati and her SP counterpart Akhilesh Yadav when they were chief ministers.
Sources in the Supreme Court said there was nothing adverse against Sehgal “personally” to merit his non-elevation.
Some other names that were cleared by the Supreme Court collegium but have now been sent back by the government for reconsideration include those of advocates Ramanand Pandey, Vivek Ratan Agrawal, Ramender Pratap Singh and Alok Kumar Yadav of the Allahabad High Court.
In May 2018, the collegium of the Rajasthan High Court recommended names of nine lawyers for elevation as judges. Over a year later, on 24 July 2019, the Supreme Court collegium cleared two of the nine names — Mahendra Goyal and Farzand Ali — while either rejecting the rest or deferring its decision on them.
On 4 November 2019, the central government decided to process the appointment of Mahendra Goyal, while sitting on the recommendation for Farzand Ali.
Now, Ali’s name has also been sent back to the collegium for reconsideration.
Asked about the road ahead for the nominees whose names have been sent back, the Supreme Court source said the ball lay in Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde’s court. “It is for the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India to decide whether and when these names should be placed before the collegium for reconsideration,” the source added.
Over the past few years, the Modi government has often come under the scanner for sitting on names cleared by the collegium without assigning any reason.
Last year, a bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul told the government to clear names recommended by the collegium within six months, especially when the apex court collegium and the executive agree with high court recommendations.
“This is not to say that in other cases the process should not be completed within six months,” the bench said.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.