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Resignation of Madras HC Chief Justice Vijaya Tahilramani Sparks a Row

Resignation sparks outrage in legal and political circles. Tahilramani oversaw various controversial cases, such as the Bilkis Bano gang-rape case during the 2002 Gujarat communal violence, in which she upheld life imprisonment of 11 convicts in 2017.
Vijaya Tahilramani

New Delhi: Madras High Court Chief Justice Vijaya K Tahilramani has resigned after the Supreme Court Collegium declined her request to reconsider her transfer to Meghalaya, stirring a storm in legal and political circles.

Tahilramani tendered her resignation to President Ram Nath Kovind and sent a copy of it to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi last night, official sources said on Saturday, reports PTI.

Tahilramani, one of the senior-most judges in India, has overseen various important cases, such as the Bilkis Bano gang-rape case during the 2002 Gujarat communal violence, in which she upheld life imprisonment of 11 convicts in 2017. 

Reacting to her resignation, senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan tweeted: “Shameful that the SC collegium decided to transfer CJ Tahilramani (one of the seniormost judges in India) of Chennai HC to the smallest court Meghalaya. Govt wanted to victimise her because of her Bilkis Bano judgement. Time for full time independent NJAC.”

Senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde, while commenting on the impact of this on the judicial system, tweeted: “The issue is not Justice Tahilramani alone. The Issue is the impact on the other judges who remain, & the impact on those who might consider a judicial career. If the judiciary does not stand by its own, what public confidence will it inspire, that it will stand by the citizen.”

It may be recalled that the SC collegium, headed by Chief Justice Gogoi, had recommended transfer of Justice Tahilramani, who was elevated as the Madras High Court's Chief Justice on August 8 last year, to the Meghalaya High Court.

The collegium had recommended her transfer on August 28, after which she had made a representation requesting it to reconsider the proposal.  She had protested against the collegium's decision to not consider her request against transferring her to the Meghalaya High Court.

According to NDTV, sources in the judiciary said that the decision to transfer her was taken by the collegium based on the feedback received from Madras High Court.

The collegium consists of justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana, Arun Mishra and R F Nariman.

As per a report in The Hindu, Justice Tahilramani had made her decision to resign public on the night of September 6, during a dinner hosted by six Madras HC judge who had been made permanent recently.

“Thanking the puisne judges for their cooperation ever since she took over as the Chief Justice on August 12 last year, Justice Tahilramani told them that she had discharged her duty without any fear or favour right from the time she assumed office as a judge of the Bombay High Court in June 2001,” the report said.

As per The Hindu report, a section of lawyers practicing in the Madras HC had written a letter to the Supreme Court stating that “these kind of arbitrary transfers whittle away the independence of the judiciary and the confidence of judges.” The representation had been signed by advocates N.G.R. Prasad, G. Masilamani, R. Vaigai and 100 others, and had requested the collegium to reconsider the transfer and “ensure that the confidence of the Bar and the Bench and the litigant public did not get eroded further.”

“To now transfer her to one of the smallest High Courts is nothing short of a punishment and a humiliation. It cannot be justified on the principle of administrative interests, which is an expression that can be used in every case. It is ironical that a person of her seniority is being assigned to the smallest High Court. Any transfer should meet with an element of fairness but it is noticed, of late, that there appears to be no norms in the matter of transfer of judges,” the memorandum read.

‘Shocking & Disturbing’

In his reaction, Congress leader and MP, Manish Tewari tweeted: “Two IAS officers S Sashikant Senthil and K Gopintah have resigned over the Idea of India being Compromised. Chief Justice VK Tahilramani of Madras High Court also quits over her transfer to Meghalaya. The Moral Fibre of many women & men will be tested in years ahead.”

Terming the transfer and subsequent resignation of Madras High Court Chief Justice Vijaya Tahilramani as "shocking and disturbing", CPI(M) politburo member Brinda Karat on Saturday said the move was an "insult" and cannot be considered routine.

Karat said: “As it is there are such few women judges at this level and the treatment meted out to her is insulting and humiliating not just to her but to women in general.”

 Commenting on the “impeccable record” of Justice Tahilramani, Karat in a statement said: "To be transferred as the chief justice from a court with 75 judges to one in Meghalaya which has only two judges cannot be considered a routine transfer and is a virtual demotion. This entire episode once again highlights the unsatisfactory opaque present system of judicial appointments and transfers." 

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