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CJI’s final push for collegium to appoint 1st SC judge in his tenure

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Just over a month away from his retirement, Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde has made the final push for the collegium to make its first recommendation of a judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court during his 14-month tenure.

On Wednesday, a meeting of the collegium took place to finalise the names of some high court judges for their elevation to the apex court but the deliberation could not come to a conclusion, people familiar with the development said on condition of anonymity.

The other judges in the five-member collegium, headed by CJI Bobde, are justices NV Ramana, Rohinton F Nariman, Uday U Lalit and AM Khanwilkar.

The discussion took place on a list of at least five names, drawn up by CJI Bobde, from among chief justices and senior judges of the high courts, the people cited above said. The views of the other four senior-most judges in the collegium were sought by the CJI, and no name was finalised on Wednesday for elevation. Another meeting has been scheduled after next week, the people added.

Those being considered for elevation to the top court include chief justices of three high courts and two women high court judges. After justice Indu Malhotra’s retirement last week, the apex court is left with just one woman judge, justice Indira Banerjee.

The Supreme Court, which has a sanctioned strength of 34 judges, has five vacancies at the moment.

As a matter of convention, the CJI usually stops recommending names for appointment of judges a month before their retirement. CJI Bobde will demit office on April 23.

There has been no consensus in the collegium over sending any name to the central government for appointment to the apex court since Justice Bobde took over as CJI in November 2019.

The last time a CJI retired without making any new appointments to the Supreme Court during their tenure was during CJI HL Dattu’s tenure in 2015. That was owing to a standoff between the judiciary and the central government over the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) that aimed to redefine the appointment process.

This time, however, the stalemate within the collegium was triggered by the lack of consensus on recommending justice Akil A Kureshi, currently chief justice of the Tripura high court, as a judge in the apex court.

To be sure, the collegium headed by CHI Bobde has made several recommendations for appointments to the high courts.

The collegium has been unable to decide on any name for the top court over the past six months because the discussion over justice Kureshi is yet to be resolved, the people said. Due to this, other recommendations have been held up too, they added.

HT reported on February 21 that the impasse over justice Kureshi may cost the country the opportunity to have its first woman CJI since it has led to uncertainty over the timely elevation of justice BV Nagarathna from the Karnataka high court, who, if elevated now, could become India’s first woman CJI in 2027.

Justice Kureshi was appointed as a judge in the Gujarat high court in 2004, and is scheduled to retire in March 2022, at the age of 62. Supreme Court judges retire at 65, and judges get an automatic extension of three years once elevated to the apex court.

In May 2019, the Supreme Court collegium recommended justice Kureshi’s appointment as the chief justice of the Madhya Pradesh high court, but the central government expressed its reservations.

This prompted the collegium to modify its recommendation in September 2019 and transfer justice Kureshi to a different high court – as chief justice of the Tripura high court, a relatively smaller high court than Madhya Pradesh’s.

Under the procedure of judicial appointments, after the names are forwarded to it by the collegium, the Union law ministry has the option of sending the recommendations back to the collegium for review.

But if the collegium resubmits them, the government has to approve the names — although there is no time frame mandated for this approval, which means the process can be delayed indefinitely.

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