Two judges, low down in seniority, elevated

New Delhi: Of late, the Supreme Court collegium seems to be throwing up more surprises than one can fathom. In December, the collegium – which comprises the top five judges of the Supreme Court – had decided to recommend Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Justice Rajendra Menon and Rajasthan High Court Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog for elevation to the top court. These names were abruptly dropped and the decision was reversed in January.

Instead, the collegium sent the names of Dinesh Justice Maheshwari and Justice Sanjiv Khanna. Both elevations were out of turn; in fact, Justice Maheshwari had already been overlooked in the previous meeting of the Collegium and ranks 22nd in the all India seniority list for High Court judges. The appointment of Khanna too has raised eyebrows in legal circles for similar reason — he happens to be at number 33 in the seniority list.

Both these recommendations by the Supreme Court Collegium were signed off by President Ram Nath Kovind on Wednesday evening. Former CJI RM Lodha was among those who is surprised that a junior judge has been recommended for elevation to the Supreme Court, superseding senior judges.

Justice SK Kaul, a sitting judge of the top court, has already expressed his reservations in writing to Chief Justice Gogoi. Former judge of the Delhi High Court, Kailash Gambhir, has also written to the President, calling the out-of-turn elevation of the two judges “appalling” and “outrageous”. Less than two months ago, Justice Maheshwari was superseded during the appointment of Justice Ajay Rastogi. “Now out of the blue, he becomes a more deserving and suitable candidate and that too in such a short gap,” Justice Gambhir said in his letter.

On Wednesday, the Bar Council also protested against the decision to elevate the two judges. “Our constitution has made even our judiciary accountable to the public… but the recent trend adopted by the collegium has completely eroded the faith of the Bar and the people,” the Council said. “What I always feel is that the Collegium should act in a transparent manner, and people must know why a decision was upturned.

The Collegium works as an institution. It is an institutional body; it is not an individual’s decision. A junior judge was superseded to the Supreme Court, it surprises me,” Justice Lodha said. Top sources in the judiciary, however, told NDTV that there was no final decision on Justices Pradeep Nandrajog and Rajendra Menon and it was only after the Collegium received some material against one of the judges that the names were changed and Justices Dinesh Maheswari and Sanjeev Khanna were recommended to the Centre.

Talking about the Collegium, Lodha said: “The Collegium is a mature body, comprising of the CJI and four senior-most judges. It is a very strong, powerful, mature and intellectual body and every decision taken by the Collegium must reflect its maturity.”

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