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There’ll be no change in process to select CJI: P.P. Chaudhary on Justice Gogoi elevation

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The Union minister of state for law denies the Modi government has been lackadaisical in appointing judges to high courts.

New Delhi: Denying speculation over supersession of justice Ranjan Gogoi as the next Chief Justice of India, P.P. Chaudhary, minister of state for law, justice and corporate affairs, said “there will be no change in the process”.

Supersession, if it happens, will be contrary to the convention of appointing the senior-most judge as the Chief Justice of India.

“Difference of opinion is a healthy thing. This will make the institution stronger,” he said Friday. Chaudhary was in conversation with ThePrint Chairman & Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on Walk The Talk, a show broadcast on news channel NDTV.

Speculation that Gogoi could be superseded arose after the unprecedented press conference of 12 January by four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court where questions were raised on CJI Dipak Misra’s selective assigning of nationally important cases to his preferred judges. The four judges were justices Gogoi, J. Chelameswar, Kurien Joseph and M.B. Lokur.

What further fuelled speculation was BJP president Amit Shah’s response — “we will do what the chief justice recommends” — when asked if Gogoi will take over from CJI Dipak Misra. Shah was speaking at an India Today event last month.

Chelameswar, at an event in April, had expressed hope that the press conference wouldn’t come in the way of Gogoi’s elevation.

Judges’ appointments

Chaudhary also denied that the government has been lackadaisical in appointing judges to high courts.

“After the second and third judges case, the high courts have to recommend names six months before vacancies arise, as per the MoP (Memorandum of Procedure). This is not being followed at all. In most cases, the recommendations come months after the vacancies arise and in some cases, it has taken years,” he said.

The apex court in 1993 second judges case, and in the 1998 third judges case, put down the law related to appointment of judges and emphatically validated the collegium system of appointing judges.

The Modi government has repeatedly stressed that it has made the highest number of appointments since the collegium system of appointing judges was brought in in 1992.

According to the law ministry, in 2016, 126 high court judges, the highest number in the last 30 years, were appointed against the average 79 to 82 per annum since 1989. In 2017, 117 high court judges were appointed and so far in 2018, 30 high court judges have been appointed.

“Don’t go by someone’s emotions on judicial appointments, I am giving you the figures. It is a continuous process. It is not as if you clear all vacancies at once,” Chaudhary said referring to former CJI T.S. Thakur’s remarks that the government had been sitting on recommendations.

Chaudhary also said that justice K.M. Joseph’s elevation is not stalled because of his judgment in the Uttarakhand president’s rule case.

“There is no controversy here. But if you expect the government to function mechanically without applying its mind on collegium recommendations, then that is not going to happen. The government cannot give up in its constitutional mandate,” he said.

The government received criticism from several quarters for sitting on and then rejecting Joseph’s name. Many believe the government’s action is connected to Joseph’s March 2016 judgment, in which he overturned imposition of President’s Rule in Uttarakhand and reinstated the Congress government of Harish Rawat.

Rajasthan elections

Chaudhary, an MP from Pali, Rajasthan, dismissed that there was an anti-incumbency wave against the BJP government in the state.

“Some people are just spreading this notion that there is anti-incumbency in this state and that our government will not return to power. My ground assessment is that we will win the state with full majority. People in Rajasthan actually tell me that the development that has happened in four years is unprecedented,” he said.

“People are aware of Congress’ work. It is shameful that we still have drinking water problems even after so many years of Congress rule,” he added.

Chaudhary, a trusted confidante of chief minister Vasundhara Raje, also dismissed rumours of any rift between Raje and Shah on the appointment of the state party president.

“Congress created the perception that there is a rift between party high command and Vasundhara Raje. This is absolutely untrue. BJP and Congress are fundamentally different in their working. BJP high command is democratic, which is why there is a discussion on party appointments unlike in the Congress where one family takes all the decisions,” he said.

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