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Khattar objects to high court collegium’s Punjab picks, and Amarinder is not pleased

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This is maybe the first time a chief minister has objected to the elevation of candidates from another state as judges for a shared court. 

Chandigarh: A fresh row has erupted between Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar and his Punjab counterpart Captain Amarinder Singh, this time over the appointment of judges to the Punjab & Haryana High Court.

Singh is said to have taken exception to the fact that Khattar, in possibly a first, opposed the elevation of four candidates from Punjab as judges of the high court, which has jurisdiction over the two states as well as the union territory of Chandigarh.

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The four candidates are among 12 – 11 advocates and one district and sessions judge – recommended for elevation by the Punjab & Haryana High Court collegium on 28 November.

Of the 11 lawyers, seven belong to Punjab and four to Haryana. According to the settled procedure, the names recommended by the collegium are sent to the chief ministers of the state over which the high court has jurisdiction.

Documents accessed by ThePrint show Khattar, in a letter dated 16 May to Haryana governor Kaptan Singh Solanki, commented on the suitability of four lawyers recommended from the Punjab quota: Arun Monga, Manjari Nehru, Mansoor Ali and J.S. Gill.

Khattar’s letter elicited a strong response from Amarinder Singh, who, in a letter to Punjab governor V.P. Singh Badnore, pointed out that he had not commented on the suitability of the four Haryana lawyers.

“It is now gathered that the chief minister, Haryana, has made some comments on the names of advocates recommended from the Punjab Bar, though he was not required to do so,” Amarinder Singh wrote in his letter dated 24 May.

“As per established procedure, if such comments have been made, these should have been referred to us for further clarifications, if any. Unfortunately, comments/views of the chief minister, Haryana, have not been conveyed to us,” he added.

After receiving Amarinder Singh’s letter, Badnore wrote to Solanki and asked him to send Khattar’s comments.

In his letter, Khattar had sought to point out that Monga, originally enrolled with the Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana, was now with the Bar Council of Delhi (since 2004) and permanently settled in the national capital.

“As per information, he has been appearing mostly in Delhi High Court, which is also evident from the record that he is stated to have appeared in the Punjab and Haryana High Court only in 12 reported and 11 unreported cases,” he wrote.

On Manjari Nehru, Khattar said she had worked mainly in the office of the Punjab advocate general, adding, “There are other women lawyers in the Bar who are much younger and more experienced than her and they can be considered and recommended.”

He opposed Mansoor Ali and J.S. Gill since they were “involved in their own litigations”.

He also opposed the name of district and sessions judge Neena Choudhary (now retired) on the ground that “the officer availed of more than 2,200 leaves from 1984 to 2010 and unusual number of leave in 2014”.

Simply put, she was on leave for an average of 85 days every year over the 26 years that he cited.

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Another reason he opposed her elevation was that the number of cases decided by her “had been very low even during 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16”.

As first reported by ThePrint, one of the members of the collegium that recommended these names had later himself sought reconsideration of the list.

Punjab & Haryana High Court judge Ajay Kumar Mittal, then the acting chief justice, sent a letter to the union law minister on 30 May, saying some of the names cleared by the collegium didn’t merit appointment as high court judges.

The other members of the collegium were former Chief Justice S.J. Vazifdar, who retired in May, and Justice Surya Kant.

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