Exclusive: Transfer of Justices MR Shah and Valmiki Mehta – Judges Appointments and RTI

The opaqueness in the functioning of the Collegium system and the difficulty to source information from Law Ministry means that news and information relating to judges appointments to higher judiciary invariably remains under the carpet.

While names of judges who are appointed can be sourced to some extent, the reasons for considering them, rejecting them, re-considering them etc. are usually never in public domain.

Despite our attempts to source information regarding judicial appointments from different sources in Supreme Court, the closed door functioning of the Collegium has not made it easy.

We have, therefore, decided to explore the route of RTI to prod for more information regarding this. The first of this series begins with our attempt to probe deeper into the two controversial transfers that were in news in 2016 – that of Delhi High Court judge, Justice Valmiki Mehta and Gujarat High Court judge, Justice MR Shah.

The transfer of Justices MR Shah and Valmiki Mehta is something which the earlier Collegium had vehemently tried to push. However, the same seems to have gone into cold storage now. Indian Express had reported on February 28 that that the Central government has returned the files, relating to the transfer of the two judges.

Below is the RTI filed and the response obtained regarding the transfer of Justices MR Shah and Valmiki Mehta.

Information sought

The RTI request was filed on December 29, 2016. The request was filed with the Department of Justice and the information sought was as follows:

“When did the Ministry of Law first receive from the Supreme Court Collegium, the file concerning transfer of Justice MR Shah of Gujarat High Court and Justice Valmiki Mehta of Delhi High Court”?

Since, no information was provided by the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) within the stipulated period, an appeal was filed on February 29.

Response

Interestingly, the CPIO responded to the query on April 7, 2017.

The response is as follows:

“The proposal of the Supreme Court Collegium (SSC) for transfer of (i) Shri Justice M.R. Shah, Judge, Gujarat High Court and (ii) Shri Justice Valmiki J. Mehta, Judge, Delhi High Court were received by this Department on 22.02.2016 and 14.03.2016 respectively. The proposals were referred back of SCC for reconsideration.”

In fact, the response by the CPIO has gone beyond the ambit of the question. The question was limited to when the files were first received from the Collegium. The response besides answering the same has also stated that it has been sent back to the Collegium for re-consideration.

The CPIO in his response has also stated that he could not give his response within the stipulated time due to official training from 13.02.2017 to 31.03.2017.

Since, the reply states that proposals were sent back to the Supreme Court Collegium but does not divulge any further details (probably due to the limited scope of the information sought), we would be filing more RTIs to know the exact status of the two transfers.

The responses by the CPIO and the Appellate Authority are given below in full.

Murali Krishnan is Associate Editor at Bar & Bench. If readers have any queries on judicial appointments which they think could be accessible through RTI, write to us at murali@barandbench.com