Undesirable and avoidable controversy

An undesirable and avoidable controversy has been created over the appointment of Justice K. M. Joseph, now the Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, as a judge of the Supreme Court. His name was recommended by the Collegium along with that of another. The other person, a senior advocate, has been appointed, but Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has objected to the appointment of Justice Joseph. What is noteworthy is that it was Justice Joseph who struck down the dismissal of the Congress Ministry in Uttarakhand by the Centre by bringing the State under President’s rule. This fact has, for good reasons, raised the question whether the Centre’s objection to Justice Joseph’s appointment was for reasons other than those mentioned by him.
The Union Law Minister has released his letter to the Chief Justice of India in which he spelled out his reasons for opposing the appointment of Justice Joseph. Only a few days ago, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha refused to admit an impeachment motion against the CJI, for, inter alia, the Opposition disclosing their charges against the CJI in a Press conference. Judging by the same yardstick, was Ravi Shankar Prasad’s disclosure of his letter to the CJI, which is a privileged communication, proper? Since he has chosen to make public his letter, some of the points raised by him can be examined. One of the points is that if Justice Joseph is appointed, there will be two Supreme Court judges from Kerala. Is there a ‘quota system’ in the appointment of judges under which not more than one judge can be appointed from one State? Obviously not, because there are now four judges in the Supreme Court from the Bombay High Court and three from the Delhi High Court. So, Prasad’s objection on this count is untenable.
The second point raised by the Law Minister is that Justice Joseph is 42nd in the all India seniority list of judges. Is seniority the only criterion taken into consideration in the appointment of judges? Obviously not. This is a frivolous argument. In public perception the NDA Government’s overriding the recommendation of the Collegium and trying to stall the appointment of Justice Joseph is for a reason that Prasad thought it wise not to spell out in his communication to the CJI. It is this that has made the Government open to the charge that it is trying to curb the independence of the highest judiciary of the land. It is for the Prime Minister and his Government to dispel this public perception.

Wednesday, 2 May, 2018