New Delhi: Justice V.K. Tahilramani, who is likely to put in her papers over the Supreme Court collegium’s decision to transfer her from the Madras High Court to the one at Meghalaya, had recently found herself in conflict with senior judges over judgeship for two lawyers, ThePrint has learnt.
According to a source, the senior judges in question wanted two lawyers practising at the Madras High Court elevated as judges in its bench. However, Tahilramani, who heads the high court collegium, opposed the demand because the candidates hadn’t attained the requisite age, the source said.
The memorandum of procedure, which dictates the process to be followed for appointment of judges, lays down that a lawyer looking for elevation as judge should be at least 45 years old.
According to the source, Tahilramani was under “extreme pressure” to rescind her objection, and her refusal to do so cost the judge her posting as the chief justice of India’s third-largest high court where she also served as acting chief justice on three occasions between 2015 and 2018. While the Madras High Court dates back to the 1800s and has a sanctioned strength of 75 judges, the Meghalaya High Court was set up in 2013 and has a sanctioned strength of three.
Justice AK Mittal’s bittersweet collegium experience
As the CJI Ranjan Gogoi-led collegium recommended Tahilramani’s transfer last month, it also called for Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice A.K. Mittal’s appointment in her stead at the Madras High Court. In effect, the two judges were to switch places, even though Mittal is much junior to Tahilramani.
However, in 2018, Gogoi, who was then a senior member of the collegium led by his predecessor Dipak Misra, had strongly objected to Mittal’s elevation as chief justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, giving detailed reasons for the same in a note to the collegium.
The post was subsequently given to Justice Surya Kant, who was junior to Mittal. Justice Kant is now a judge in the Supreme Court.
In 2017, Justice Mittal was recommended for appointment as the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court by the Supreme Court collegium, then headed by former Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar. However, inexplicably, Khehar did not forward the collegium’s recommendation to the Centre.
When the govt wanted Tahilramani in the SC
Justice Tahilramani’s name was cited by the government as a judge deserving of a slot on the Supreme Court bench last year, when the collegium and the Modi government found themselves on the warpath over the elevation of the then Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K.M. Joseph to the top court.
The collegium had recommended Joseph’s elevation in a resolution dated 10 January 2018. But the Centre sat over the collegium’s recommendation for over six months, and it took a reiteration by the collegium in June for the government to finally clear Joseph’s elevation.
The memorandum of procedure allows the Centre to disapprove of collegium recommendations, but not if they have been reiterated by the judicial body.
During the period it sat on the collegium’s recommendation, the government had cited V.K. Tahilramani’s ranking in all-India seniority to state that judges like her deserve to be elevated before Justice Joseph.
Going by the current rankings, Justice Tahilramani is the most senior high court judge, while Mittal figures at rank 42.
Tahilramani had asked the Supreme Court collegium to review her transfer but the CJI-led body refused to do it. While reiterating the transfer, the Gogoi-led collegium said her transfer to the Meghalaya High Court was in the interest of “better administration of justice”.
ThePrint tried to reach the judge, but she did not respond.