New Delhi: The names of nine chief justices and judges of various high courts, cleared recently by the Supreme Court collegium, headed by Chief Justice of India N.V Ramana, left out one name that is quite significant. That of Justice Akil Abdulhamid Kureshi, one of the senior-most high court chief justices in the country, reports The Telegraph newspaper.
Justice Kureshi is the one who had remanded Amit Shah (now Union Home Minister) in the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation or CBI in 2010 in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh alleged fake encounter case in Gujarat.
According to the report, the list of names was cleared less than a week after Justice R.F. Nariman, the third senior-most member of the Supreme Court collegium, retired on August 12.
Justice Nariman, the reports says, is “learnt to have insisted when he was part of the collegium that a senior judge like Justice Kureshi be elevated to the apex court before the other names were considered. As a result, there appeared to be a stalemate on the elevation of judges to the Supreme Court for several months, sources said.”
However, the five-member Supreme Court collegium, consisting of Justices Ramana, U.U. Lalit, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao -- discussed the names till 8.30 p.m this Tuesday. “An in-principle decision was taken on Tuesday night and the names were formally cleared on Wednesday evening to be sent to the Union government for approval,” said the report, adding that the set of nine names omitted Justice Kureshi, who is due to retire in March next year.
The Telegraph said it tried to reach Justice Ramana to know why Justice Kureshi’s name was not there, but in vain.
However, at the farewell gathering of Justice Naveen Sinha on August 18, the CJI said that he was “extremely upset” by media reports on the list of names selected by the collegium.
“The process of appointment of judges is sacrosanct and has a certain dignity attached to it. My media friends must understand and recognise the sanctity of this process”, CJI Ramana said, as quoted by The Leaflet.
Most of the nine names cleared by the collegium are relatively junior to Justice Kureshi “in terms of experience or stints as judges in high courts,” said The Telegraph report, adding, however, that there is no “hard and fast” rule that senior-most judge or chief justice of high court should be elevated to the country’s top court, but “as a convention, seniority is accorded high priority.”
Justice Kureshi was appointed Chief Justice of the Tripura High Court on November 16, 2019, and was in line for elevation to the Supreme Court.
A report in The Wire early (February) this year had also hinted at “disagreement” within the five-member collegium on elevating Justice Kureshi. The report had cited a now deleted Facebook post by a former Supreme Court judge indicating that “one of the five judges had said that “he will oppose any recommendation of judges unless Justice Kureshi is recommended”. That post, without naming the dissenting judge, had mentioned that he was “retiring later this year”. That name, as per indications, was probably Justice Nariman who retired recently.
According to The Wire report, “the Supreme Court’s collegium did not meet even once in 2020 to recommend appointment of new judges to the court to fill four vacancies. The number of vacancies in the court with a sanctioned strength of 34 judges is likely to rise to nine, with five more judges retiring this year.”
The report had also mentioned that “if the government succeeds in stalling fresh appointments to the Supreme Court till August because of its resistance to appointing Justice Kureshi, it may well be banking on the likely cooperation from the next collegium which will include Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao, to recommend names other than Justice Kureshi.”