Even as controversy raged over the recommendations for their elevation, the government late on Wednesday notified the appointments of Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Delhi High Court judge, Justice Sanjiv Khanna, as judges of the supreme court. They are likely to be sworn in later this week.
The notification came even as protests against their elevation continued to mount and the Bar Council of India expressing its anger and deciding to send a delegation to meet the collegium to that their decision of 10 January be withdrawn. Recalling that it had actively worked to sort out the issue when around this time last by four senior judges of the SC came out to protest, the BCI said it will if needed convene a meeting of all the state Bar Councils, High Court Bar Associations and others to discuss the matter and to decide of what further action needs to be taken.
The Collegium led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi unanimously recommended Justice Khanna’s name along with Justice Maheshwari’s on January 10, despite objections raised by sitting judge Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul who said that the elevation of Justice Khanna would be to overlook the seniority of high court judges. As many as 32 judges senior to Justice Khanna are supposed to have been overlooked. Justice Maheshwari’s name was overlooked in November last year when his name figured in the zone of consideration for elevation to the top court.
Only a day ago, a former Delhi High Court judge had written to the President that the Supreme Court collegium’s recommendation to pick Justice Khanna amounted to casting aspersions on the merit of those overlooked. Other judicial sources have said experience alone cannot be the criterion. At a meeting of the five-member collegium on December 12 last year, the names of Delhi Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Rajasthan Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog had been considered. But the collegium of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Madan B. Lokur, A.K. Sikri, S.A. Bobde and N.V. Ramana had not taken the final decision, sources said. A collegium statement earlier this week merely noted that the meeting was “incomplete” and no decision was taken. In the meantime, Justice Lokur had superannuated during the Christmas vacation. The reconstituted collegium, with the induction of Justice Arun Mishra as the fifth member, decided on January 10 to elevate Justices Khanna and Maheshwari.
Shortly before the government notified the appointments, the Bar Council of India, which regulates the professional conduct of advocates in the country, criticised the collegium’s January 10 decision. It said in a statement that the January decision was “unjust and improper”.
The BCI said the “revocation” regarding Justices Nandrajog and Menon “is viewed as whimsical and arbitrary”. “They are men of integrity and judicial competence. Nobody can raise a finger against these judges on any ground. The decision of 10th January, 2019, will certainly lead to humiliation and demoralisation of such judges and also of several other deserving senior judges and chief justices of high courts.”
The council, in its statement before the Centre’s clearance, said several state bar councils and other bar associations were pressing the apex body of advocates to “agitate the matter” before the government.
“The Bar Council of India is hard-pressed to raise these issues. Today, the Bar Council of Delhi has also taken resolution against the decision of the collegium. Several state Bar councils, high court Bar associations and other Bar associations of the country have written to us and are pressing the apex body of advocates to raise this issue and to agitate the matter before the government as well as before the collegium judges. Most of the councils and associations have even proposed to sit on dharna and/or to organise some nation-wide protest on this serious issue,” the statement said.