Justice Maheshwari, Khanna Sworn-in as SC Judges Amid Controversy
The two high court judges, Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna were sworn-in as Supreme Court judges on Friday, 18 January.
Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi administered the oath of office to justices Maheshwari and Khanna during the swearing-in ceremony held in court number 1 of the apex court.
The swearing-in comes after concerns about the elevation were raised by a retired Delhi High Court judge and a Supreme Court judge.
On 10 January, the Collegium had taken the decision to elevate Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna to the apex court by superseding 32 judges.
According to The Times of India, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul wrote to CJI Ranjan Gogoi that instead of Justice Khanna, the Collegium should reconsider nominating Rajasthan High Court Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog, who is the senior-most judge in the zone, for elevation to SC.
A day earlier, retired Delhi High Court judge Kailash Gambhir had written to President Ram Nath Kovind objecting to the Collegium’s recommendation.
Justice Kaul also clarified that he had nothing against Justice Khanna, but said that the judge could wait for his turn to be elevated.
Retd HC Judge Writes to President
In his letter to the President on 14 January, Justice Gambhir mentioned that Justice Khanna is the nephew of late Justice HR Khanna, who was superseded after he gave a dissenting verdict during Emergency.
Retired Justice Gambhir, a senior advocate, urged the President that the credibility and independence of the judiciary be preserved and “let another historical blunder not be committed.”
The letter comes in the wake of the Collegium’s 10 January recommendation for elevation of Justice Maheshwari, who is presently the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, and Justice Sanjiv Khanna, a judge in the Delhi High Court.
He said when he saw the news on TV channels on 11 January that the Collegium had recommended elevation of Justices Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna to the apex court, at first, he disbelieved it. However, he saw that on legal news websites there was a detailed coverage of this event, including the decision of collegium placed on the website of the Supreme Court.
"To reiterate what you may be aware, it states that the collegium has discussed the names of Chief Justices as well as senior puisne judges of the high courts, eligible for elevation to the Supreme Court and is of the considered view that at present the said two persons are more deserving and suitable in all respects than other Chief Justices and senior puisne judges of high courts for being appointed as judges of the Supreme Court of India.”
“The decision of the collegium also refers to certain decisions taken by it on 12 December, 2018, but since the required consultation could not be undertaken as the winter vacation of the intervened and by the time the court reopened, the composition of the collegium underwent a change,” the two-page letter stated.
News Has Sent Shockwaves to Entire Legal Fraternity: Justice Gambhir
It added that the news breaking all traditions has sent shock waves to the entire legal and judicial fraternity and termed the "earth shattering" decision to supersede 32 judges as appalling and outrageous.
"This is appalling and outrageous that such an earth shattering decision has been taken to supersede as many as 32 judges which include many Chief Justices, casting aspersions on their intellect, merit and integrity," it said.
Justice Gambhir also wrote that Justice Sanjiv Khanna, the son of late Justice D R Khanna, and nephew of a highly respected man in the legal world, former Supreme Court Justice HR Khanna, who had given a dissent judgement in ADM Jabalpur matter.
"The talk in the legal corridors is that the elevation of Justice (Sanjiv) Khanna is with a view to pay respect to the legacy left by his great uncle and is a tribute to his great ideals, principles, judicial philosophy and most of all, to the courageous stand taken by him in the habeas corpus case.
“We all know that Justice (H R) Khanna stood as a rock in his known dissenting and minority voice and refused to bow down to the majority voice of four senior-most judges who went on to compromise the life and liberty of citizens, permitting unrestricted powers of the government for detention during the Emergency.”The letter said.
It stated that Justice HR Khanna knew when he signed his dissenting judgement that he was signing away his future chief justiceship.
As a fait accompli, when the time came, Justice H R Khanna was superseded and in his place Justice M H Beg was appointed as the Chief Justice of India, it said.
Justice Gambhir said Justice H R Khanna resigned so as to “give a slap” on the face of all those votary of playing with the independence of the judiciary and to respect the seniority of judges. Many term the supersession of Justice H R Khanna as a 'black day' in the history of the Indian judiciary, he said.
While addressing the media, it was said that 'unless this institution is preserved, democracy will not survive in this country'. It was also said that the 'democracy will not survive without free judiciary', the letter said.
"I humbly urge your Excellency to kindly ponder over as the head of largest democracy in the world with a robust judiciary and having remained a part of the legal fraternity, and see yourself that the way the present collegium of five eminent senior judges have superseded almost 32 judges, how will the democracy and independence of judiciary in the country survive.
It cannot be forgotten that it is just one-and-a-half month back the then collegium members of the Supreme Court had superseded Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and now out of the blue, he becomes more deserving and suitable within such a short gap," Justice Gambhir said.
‘Collegium Must Act Transparently’: Ex-CJI Lodha
Expressing his surprise at the Collegium’s decision to elevate Justice Sanjiv Khanna to the Supreme Court while superseding over 30 senior judges across the country, former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha called for more transparency in the collegium.
“What I always feel is that the Collegium should act in a transparent manner, and reasons must be forthcoming why the decision was a u-turn. There must be transparency. I have always believed that the Collegium works as an institution. It is an institutional body; it is not an individual’s decision. If the consultation or communication between the Collegium was lacking, that could have been done. A junior judge was superseded to the Supreme Court , it surprises me.”
(With inputs from PTI and The Times of India)