Following communications from the Central Government, the Supreme Court Collegium has changed its recommendation to appoint Akil Kureshi as chief justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
In a resolution dated 5 September 2019, the Collegium decided to recommend Justice Kureshi’s appointment as chief justice of the Tripura High Court instead.
The Collegium, the body comprised of the CJI and other senior judges of the apex court, makes recommendations to the President about appointments of the chief justices of the high courts around the country.
They had recommended Justice Kureshi for the Madhya Pradesh HC post on 10 May 2019. The Department of Justice referred this back to the CJI on 23 August and 27 August, along with some materials to support their view.
According to Friday’s resolution, the Collegium has decided to modify its resolution “after taking into account” the two communications and the accompanying material.
The resolution bears the names of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, as well as Justices SA Bobde and NV Ramana.
While this new resolution does not provide any details of what the communications from the Centre said, it is evident that the Centre had some issues with the appointment of Justice Kureshi as chief justice of the Madhya Pradesh HC.
The procedure in such cases is that the Collegium sends recommendations for such appointments to the Central Government. After conducting a review, the Law Ministry is supposed to seek the views of the concerned State Government on the recommendation.
The Centre must then consider such views and then decide to accept the recommendation of the Collegium immediately, or send it back to the judges for reconsideration. If, after reconsideration, the Collegium decides to reiterate a recommendation, the Centre cannot send it back again.
The long delay by the Centre in replying to the Collegium’s recommendation had led to widespread criticism, and the Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association (GHCAA) even filed a petition in the Supreme Court, for a direction to the Collegium to reiterate its recommendation regarding Justice Kureshi.
Senior advocate Yatin Oza, the president of the GHCAA, had claimed that Justice Kureshi’s appointment was being stalled because of two judgments he had passed that had angered the leaders of the ruling BJP, in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, and a dispute over the appointment of a Lokayukta in Gujarat.
The resolution of the Collegium makes it clear that the judges felt there was merit to the Centre’s communications, and that this was the reason for reconsideration.
It is interesting to note that in its resolution dated 10 May 2019, the same three judges had said that
“Having regard to all relevant factors, the Collegium is of the considered view that Mr. Justice A.A Kureshi is suitable in all respects for being appointed as Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court.”
This resolution comes soon after a recent controversy over the Collegium’s recommendation to transfer Justice VK Tahilramani, the chief justice of the Madras High Court, to become chief justice of the Meghalaya High Court, “in the interest of better administration of justice”.
Justice Tahilramani submitter her resignation after the Collegium rejected her representation against this transfer, and the Madras High Court Advocates Association conducted protests.
The Collegium subsequently issued a statement on 12 September saying that the transfer was recommended for “cogent reasons after complying with the required procedure in the interest of better administration of justice.”