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SC wanted to transfer Delhi HC judge, but put it on hold after dissent in collegium

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The proposal to transfer Justice S. Muralidhar was discussed twice — first in December and then again in January, says a report.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court collegium had proposed to transfer “high-profile” Delhi High Court judge S. Murlidhar, but has now stalled the move, said a report Monday.

The move was stalled after members of the collegium, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, advised against it, said the Indian Express report.

Sources told ThePrint that one member of the collegium openly spoke out at the meeting against the proposal brought by CJI Gogoi, wondering why Justice Muralidhar had to be transferred out.

It said that the proposal to transfer Muralidhar, known for bold judgments on “communal violence and personal liberties,” was discussed twice — first in December and then again in January.

One of the members who raised objections against the decision was Justice Madan B. Lokur, who retired last month. Another member was Justice A.K. Sikri, set to retire on 6 March.

The first bid to transfer Murlidhar was reportedly made in December. “But a judge in the collegium from the Delhi High Court is said to have persuaded the CJI to not insist on it. In the second instance, a bid was made again, when the Collegium changed, after the retirement of Justice Lokur,” added the report.

Apart from Supreme Court Justice Sikri, who is a member of the collegium, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who is also from the Delhi High Court, also vehemently opposed the proposal.

Decisions on the transfer and appointment of high court judges are taken by the three senior-most members of the collegium, whereas decisions to elevate a judge to the top court is taken by the five senior-most judges.

Top court judges from the parent high court are often consulted.

Sources said the CJI may bring up the transfer proposal again after Justice Sikri retires on 6 March.

Reversal of decisions

Earlier this month, there was disquiet in the judiciary when the Centre cleared the top court’s controversial decision to elevate Karnataka High Court chief justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Delhi High Court judge Sanjiv Khanna to the top court.

The move came after the top court rescinded its earlier decision to elevate Delhi High Court chief justice Rajendra Menon and Rajasthan High Court chief justice Pradeep Nandrajog to the Supreme Court.

The 10 January decision of the collegium drew widespread criticism.

In recommending Khanna’s name, the five-judge SC collegium superceded three judges from the same parent high court senior to him – Nandrajog, Jammu and Kashmir High Court chief justice Gita Mittal and Delhi High Court judge Ravindra Bhat.

After its move, Justice Kaul also raised questions over the manner in which judges senior to Khanna were being ignored to elevate him.

The decision was taken days after the retirement of Justice Lokur, originally from Delhi High Court and the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court after CJI Gogoi.

At an event last week, Lokur expressed disappointment that the collegium chose to rescind the decision he was part of days after he retired.

“I did not question any motive nor did I seek any explanation. It is not my job,” he said. “A decision was taken, if it was not put up, I am disappointed.”

Justice Arun Mishra has taken Lokur’s place as the fifth member of the SC collegium.

Also read: Bar Council asks Modi for Rs 50,000-crore allocation in Budget for lawyers’ welfare

SCBA voices concern

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Bar Association also voiced “serious concern” over the top court’s 10 January decision.

The SCBA convened the Executive Committee on 22 January where it deliberated over the need to call a general body meeting to discuss the latest crisis in the judiciary.

“Decision taken by a Collegium of the Supreme Court ought not to be re-visited without there being very strong reasons. Further, the Executive Committee is also of the view that the inter-se-seniority of the High Court Judges, ordinarily should not have been ignored in the matter of their elevation to Supreme Court (sic)”, the EC said in a circular it issued Friday.

The circular comes on the heels of a letter written by retired high court judge Kailash Gambhir to President Ram Nath Kovind and the Bar Council of India’s (BCI) protest on the collegium decision.

Terming the decision “whimsical and arbitrary,” the BCI, the apex body for lawyers, said CJI Gogoi’s decision was coming across as “unjust and improper.”

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