Collegium Appointments: Two Supreme Court Judges express reservations over supersession of seniority

Bar & Bench September 5 2019
R Banumathi and Sanjay kishen kaul, collegium

Justices R Banumathi and Sanjay Kishan Kaul have expressed their reservations on the Supreme Court Collegium overlooking seniority when it comes to making recommendations for appointment of Supreme Court judges, reports ET.

The recent weeks saw a flurry of Collegium recommendations for appointments to various High Courts as well as the Supreme Court. As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, among the nominees poised for elevation are Justices V Ramasubramanian (presently the Chief of the Himachal Pradesh High Court) and S Ravindra Bhat (presently the Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court).

It is now reported that Justice R Banumathi, the sixth senior most judge at the Supreme Court, has registered her objection to elevating Justice Ramasubramanian while superseding Justice Ramalingam Sudhakar, who is presently the Chief Justice of the Manipur High Court. Both Justice Ramasubramanian as well as Justice Sudhakar hail from the Madras High Court, which is also Justice Banumathi's parent High Court.

Justice Ramasubramanian is ranked 42 in the in the combined seniority of High Court Judges on all-India basis. He was appointed as an additional judge of the Madras High Court in July 2006, and as a permanent judge in November 2009. Following a stint in as Hyderabad High Court judge, and thereafter as a Telangana High Court judge, Justice Ramasubramanian was eventually appointed the Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court in June 2019.

On the other hand, Justice Sudhakar was elevated as judge of the Madras High Court in 2005, a year earlier to Justice Ramasubramanian's elevation. Justice Sudhakar became a permanent judge of the Madras High Court in 2007. After a term as Jammu and Kashmir High Court judge, where he also briefly served as Acting Chief Justice, Justice Sudhakar was made Chief Justice of the Manipur High Court in May 2018.

Similar objection has also been reportedly raised by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, presently the 12th senior most judge of the Supreme Court, over the proposal to elevate Justice S Ravindra Bhat. Justice Bhat was appointed an additional judge of Delhi High Court in 2004 and was made a permanent judge in 2006. He was appointed as Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court earlier this year.

It is reported that while Justice Kaul has given a positive endorsement of Justice Bhat's capabilities as a potential appointee, he has also stated,

"However, my views on the larger issue remain the same as contained in my letter dated January 11, 2019."

In his January representation, Justice Kaul had written to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi against the decision of the Collegium to reconsider the rumoured elevation of then Rajasthan High Court Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog to the Supreme Court. There were strong indications that the Collegium had signed off on the proposal to elevate Justice Nandrajog as a Supreme Court judge in December 2018. However, when the resolutions were made public, there was no mention of Justice Nandrajog's name. Instead, on January 10, the Collegium proposed the elevations of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dinesh Maheshwari.

The next day, Justice Kaul wrote to the CJI that a wrong signal would be sent if Nandrajog, being the senior-most judge who was in the zone of consideration then, is passed over. In his letter, Justice Kaul had also clarified that he has nothing against Justice Sanjiv Khanna, but that Justice Khanna could wait for his turn to be elevated.