New Delhi: The transfer of Delhi High Court judge S. Muralidhar to the Punjab and Haryana High Court has triggered rare outrage with angry lawyers calling it “arbitrary” and even attributing motives to the decision.
The Delhi High Court Bar Association has even asked its members to abstain from work today to protest the transfer. The reaction of the lawyers, however, could be misplaced.
Sources in the Supreme Court Collegium told ThePrint that the transfer was “routine” and that eventually the judge will take over as Chief Justice in Chandigarh, once current Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha is elevated to the Supreme Court.
Jha is being considered for elevation to the Supreme Court — there will be two vacancies to fill by the first week of May — along with Delhi High Court Chief Justice D.N. Patel, who is originally from the Gujarat High Court.
“There is a strong chance that the current Punjab and Haryana High Court CJ may be soon recommended for elevation to the Supreme Court to either fill the vacancy caused by the retirement of previous CJI Ranjan Gogoi or the likely one that will arise on the scheduled retirement of Justice Deepak Gupta on 6 May,” a senior judge told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
“Once that happens, Justice Muralidhar, who is going as first puisine judge (second in seniority after the CJ), will take over as acting CJ until his formal orders as chief justice are issued,” the senior judge added.
According to the all-India seniority list, Muralidhar is currently at serial number 30 but there are three other judges who are senior to him. Of the three, two are high court chief justices — Pradeep Nandrajog and Gita Mittal, while the third is Delhi High Court Judge G.S. Sistani.
But Justice Nandrajog, who is currently the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, is scheduled to retire on 23 February, while Sistani, who is at number 29 in all-India seniority, retires on 10 March.
“Since two Delhi HC judges are sent as chief justices of other courts, once chief justice Nandrajog’s retires, Justice Muralidhar will be eligible to be appointed as chief justice,” said a source in the Supreme Court.
“The fact that he is being sent to the court where he could eventually be appointed as the CJ should be welcomed and not turned into a controversy.”
Justice Muralidhar, known to be a good judge with an excellent track record, is well-known for a slew of important verdicts in sensitive cases such as the Section 377 case, 1984 anti-Sikh riots case, Hashimpura massacre case, among others.
Why is the HC Bar upset?
This, however, isn’t the first time that there has been a move to shift Muralidhar. On at least two previous occasions, his transfer was mooted but the move fell through after opposition from within the Supreme Court Collegium.
The Delhi High Court Bar Association feels Muralidhar’s transfer will “not only be detrimental to our noble institution, but also tend to erode and dislodge the faith of the common litigant in the justice dispensation system”.
“Such transfers”, the Bar Association maintains, will “also impede free and fair delivery of justice by the Hon’ble Bench”.