New Delhi: Three women judges, one judge from the Scheduled Caste and another belonging to the Other Backward Class are among the nine new judges of the Supreme Court notified by President Ram Nath Kovind Thursday afternoon.
With these appointments, the strength of judges in the top court will increase from 24 to 33 with just one vacancy pending. The swearing-in ceremony for the new judges is likely to take place on 31 August.
The names were proposed by the Supreme Court Collegium in a resolution on 17 August, which was seen as a crucial development as it came 22 months after the last collegium recommendation.
The collegium is a high-powered appointment panel led by the Chief Justice of India and comprises four senior judges of the top court. At present, it is headed by CJI N.V. Ramana and has justices U.U. Lalit, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and L.N. Rao as its members.
The interim 22 months between the two recommendations marked former CJI S.A. Bobde’s tenure, when the collegium could not finalise any names due to a lack of consensus.
While the panel’s proposal came under mild criticism for overlooking several senior judges, sources in SC told ThePrint that the selections were made to ensure adequate representation from all communities and regions.
Of the nine names chosen, four are sitting chief justices of high courts — Justice Abhay Oka from Karnataka, Justice Vikram Nath from Gujarat, Justice K.K. Maheshwari from Sikkim and Justice Hima Kohli from Telangana — and four are HC judges, Justice B.V. Nagarathna from Karnataka HC, Justice Bela Trivedi from Gujarat, Justice C.T. Sivakumar from Kerala and Justice M.M. Sundaresh from Tamil Nadu. One senior advocate, P. Narasimha, has also been appointed.
Series of firsts by SC Collegium
The resolution on 17 August also marked a series of firsts for the SC Collegium.
This was the first time the collegium unanimously endorsed all nine names for elevation.
Furthermore, the resolution included three women judges — Justices Hima Kohli, Bela Trivedi and B.V. Nagarathna — for the first time with Justice Nagarathana set to become the first women CJI of India in 2027.
In another first, the collegium also proposed names of judges from both the Scheduled Caste and the OBC — Justice C.T. Sivakumar and Justice M.M. Sundaresh, respectively.
Advocate Namit Saxena, who has undertaken a detailed analysis of caste representation in the apex court, said the resolution has ensured adequate, if not proportionate, representation of a few communities.
“So far, the top court has seen a large number of judges from the Brahmin community, given their exalted status in the society. There has been a transformation, albeit gradual,” Saxena told ThePrint.
However, he noted that SC needed more OBC judges. “OBC had no representation till 1980 and even after most of the OBC judges have come from the southern part. There has been only one OBC judge from the north and that is Justice BS Chauhan.”
The collegium also included a senior member of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), Senior Advocate P. Narasimha. This is significant because the SCBA has been extremely vocal about the non-appointment of a Bar member as an SC judge. Narasimha will also go on to become only the third advocate to be elevated as a top court judge and hold office as CJI.
All nine judges also belong to different states — Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Gujarat — ensuring representation from across India.
SC to have two sitting judges from Scheduled Caste
With Justice Sivakumar’s appointment, the Supreme Court will now have two sitting judges from the Scheduled Caste community after a gap of two decades. At present, Justice B.R. Gavai is the only judge belonging to the community.
The top court got its first Dalit judge in 1980 when Justice A. Vardarajan was appointed. “This was 30 years after India got its independence,” Saxena said, adding that the top court has seen only five judges from the Scheduled Castes.
Justice Vardarajan had a five-year tenure and retired in August 1985. Two months after he retired, Justice B.C. Ray was appointed in October 1985. His term of six years ended in October 1991. A year earlier, in 1989, Justice K. Ramaswamy from Andhra Pradesh joined office and served as a judge for eight years before retiring in July 1997.
Justice K.G. Balakrishnan was the fourth Dalit judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court in 200. He went on to become India’s first CJI from the Scheduled Caste community between 14 January 2007 and 12 May 2010. Justice Sivakumar is also related to Justice Balakrishnan.
Justice B.R. Gavai will also hold the CJI’s office for six months in 2025.
Four women judges in SC
The collegium’s decision to elevate three women judges to SC is being seen as unprecedented and historic for two reasons.
One, Justice Nagarathna will become the first women Chief Justice of independent India in 2027 and will hold office for just over a month from 23 September to 29 October in 2027. This is because a judge can hold the CJI office only till the age of 65.
Two, this will be the first time that the apex court will have four sitting women judges. The current lone woman judge, Justice Indira Banerjee, demits office in September next year.
Sources involved in the decision-making process told ThePrint that it was important for the top court to “walk the talk” and, therefore, the resolution included three women judges.
“SC has delivered multiple judgements advocating gender justice and equity, but its decision on the administrative side such as the collegium resolution has never reflected the same,” one of the sources said.
Several senior judges excluded
The list of SC judges also left many surprised as most of the elevated judges are relatively junior to some chief justices of high courts.
A prominent senior high court to be excluded from the reckoning is Justice Akil Kureshi, chief justice of the Tripura High Court.
Similarly, Justice R.S. Jha, chief justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice D.N. Patel, chief justice of Delhi High Court and Justice S. Muralidhar from the Orissa High Court have also been excluded.
While it is not mandatory for the senior-most judge of HC chief justice to be elevated to the Supreme Court, seniority has been accorded priority as a convention.
However, sources quoted above explained that while taking decisions the collegium keeps in mind several aspects such as community and regional representation.
The list, they added, is not a commentary on the merit of those who were not a part of it.
(Edited by Rachel John)