The President of India last week accepted Madras High Court Chief Justice V.K. Tahilramani’s resignation from her post after the Supreme Court collegium decided to transfer her to the Meghalaya High Court.
This comes on the back of the Supreme Court collegium ‘modifying’ its earlier decision and appointing Justice A.A. Kureshi as the Chief Justice of Tripura High Court and not Madhya Pradesh High Court as was recommended earlier.
The two back-to-back decisions by the Supreme Court collegium have left the door wide open for key questions to be asked of it.
Was transfer a punishment?
According to a report in The Indian Express, the Supreme Court collegium decided to transfer Chief Justice Tahilramani due to her “short working hours” in the court; her decision to “abruptly” dissolve a bench, her alleged proximity to a senior politician in Tamil Nadu’s ruling party and purchase of two properties in Chennai.
So, was Chief Justice Tahilramani’s transfer a punishment?
It is a settled law that transfer is not a punishment. But, in the case of Chief Justice Tahilramani, we are expected to believe that her transfer was due to reasons that purportedly made her continuation as Chief Justice of Madras High Court untenable.
It is good if the collegium feels that a judge’s fewer working hours should be held against her. But, by that logic, shouldn’t the court make public the performance of each and every judge of the Supreme Court and the high court?
Shouldn’t the public have the right to know how many cases each judge handled and decided? Is there any performance evaluation system for the members of the higher judiciary and does the collegium consider the performance of each judge before deciding to elevate him or her as the Chief Justice of a high court or a judge of the Supreme Court?
Also, if the collegium thought that Chief Justice Tahimramani’s conduct was unbecoming of a high court chief justice, did CJI Ranjan Gogoi seek her response to the charges against her? Was she asked about the source of funds through which she allegedly bought two properties?
Was she asked about her alleged proximity to a senior ruling party leader? More importantly, is it now a settled law that a judge’s perceived proximity with a politician will go against him/her?
We don’t have answer to these important questions because when it comes to transparency in its functioning, the Supreme Court is often found wanting. Till 24 September, the Supreme Court website has asset details of only seven of the 34 judges.
It’s about time the Supreme Court makes public the assets of judges at the high courts and the Supreme Court, complete with the details of assets in the name of spouse and children. This list must be updated annually on the court’s website.
Setting a new trend?
On the collegium’s decision to modify its own recommendation on Justice A.A. Kureshi’s appointment, did it find merit in the government’s arguments against making him the chief justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court?
I have reported how the Narendra Modi government tried everything in its arsenal to stall Justice Kureshi’s appointment, the senior-most judge at the Gujarat High Court, as the chief justice of a high court.
Was the collegium’s decision to modify its recommendation a result of the government pressure? More importantly, is the manner in which the collegium yielded to the government on Justice Kureshi’s appointment the new practice?
Was consultation with puisne judges held before the collegium’s recent decisions?
Under the Memorandum of Procedure, the CJI takes the view of one or more puisne judges of the Supreme Court conversant with the affairs of the particular high court while deciding on appointments or transfers.
One would not be off the mark in saying that under the last few CJIs, especially CJIs Ranjan Gogoi and Dipak Misra, the collegium has ceded ground and its authority to the government.
By bringing transparency in its own functioning, the collegium can still undo the damage to some extent. But the bigger question is: does the collegium want to do that?
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.