SC collegium ends 2-year impasse in judicial appointments, puts forward 9 names to fill apex court vacancies

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Ending a 22-month-long stalemate in the appointment of Supreme Court judges, the Collegium headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana is understood to have recommended nine names for appointment as judges in the apex court, sources told PTI.

Why is this relevant? 

The last appointment to Supreme Court was made in September 2019 under then CJI Ranjan Gogoi, meaning that Ramana’s predecessor Justice SS Bobde ended his 14-month long tenure without making a single recommendation to the government.

This had happened only once before in the Supreme Court in 2015. Then CJI HS Dattu retired without making any recommendations due to an unprecedented logjam between the legislative and judiciary over the formation of a National Judicial Appointment Commission to replace the current collegium system of appointments.

Although no official reason was cited for the hold-up this time around, media reports claimed that the impasse was internal.

Justices Krishna Murari, S Ravindra Bhat, V Ramasubramanian and Hrishikesh Roy were the last appointees. The oldest vacancy is that of Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who had retired in November 2019.

Furthermore, the current batch of recommendations is also relevant because it includes three women judges, along with BV Nagarathna from the Karnataka High Court, who, if elevated, could become the first woman to hold CJI’s office in 2027.

How many vacancies are there in SC?

With the retirement of Justice RF Nariman on 12 August, the strength of judges in the top court had come down to 25 as against the sanctioned strength of 34, including the CJI.

The recommendations, if accepted, will fill all current vacancies taking the working strength to 33. One additional vacancy would arise on Wednesday, when Justice Navin Sinha retires.

Who all are probable candidates for appointments?

Sources said that the five-member collegium, which also comprises justices UU Lalit, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, has sent three names of woman judges, including Justice BV Nagarathna from the Karnataka High Court who could become the first woman CJI.

According to the people familiar with the development, besides Justice Nagarathna, two other women judges picked for the appointment are Justice Hima Kohli, the Chief Justice of Telangana High Court, and Justice Bela Trivedi, a Gujarat High Court judge.

The collegium is also understood to have selected senior advocate and former Additional Solicitor General PS Narasimha for direct appointment from the Bar.

The other names, as per sources, are justices Abhay Shreeniwas Oka (Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court), Vikram Nath (Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court), Jitendra Kumar Maheshwari (Chief Justice of Sikkim High Court), C T Ravi Kumar (a judge in Kerala High Court) and M M Sundersh (also a judge in Kerala High Court).

How are judges appointed?

The Chief Justice of India and the Judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President under clause (2) of Article 124 of the Constitution. The appointment process is done taking into account the seniority of the judges, the regional representation in the Supreme Court and the merit or skill they have exhibited during their judicial careers.

Whenever a vacancy is expected to arise in the office of a Judge of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice of India initiates a proposal and forward his recommendation to the Union Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs to fill up the vacancy. But before the CJI makes a recommendation, they have to consult with fellow judges in the following order.

  • The Chief Justice of India consults with a collegium of the four most senior puisne judges of the Supreme Court. If the successor Chief Justice of India is not one of the four seniormost puisne Judges, he would be made part of the collegium as he should have a hand in the selection of judges who will function during his term as Chief Justice of India.
  • The Chief Justice of India would also ascertain the views of the most senior judge in the Supreme Court, who hails from the high court from where the person recommended comes, but if he does not have any knowledge of his merits and demerits, the next most senior judge in the Supreme Court from that High Court should be consulted.
  • The Chief Justice of India then forwards the opinions of all these judges to Government of India along with their final recommendation.
  • After receipt of the final recommendation, the Union Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs will put up the recommendations to the prime minister who will advise the president in the matter of appointment.
  • As soon as the appointment is approved, the Secretary to the Government of India in the Department of Justice will inform the Chief Justice of India and obtain from the person selected a certificate of physical fitness signed by a Civil Surgeon or a District Medical Officer. The ,edical certificate is to be obtained from all persons selected for appointment whether they are at the time of appointment in the service of the State or not. The certificate should be in the form annexed.
  • As soon as the warrant of appointment is signed by the president, the Secretary to the Government of India in the Department of Justice will announce the appointment and issue the necessary notification in the Gazette of India.

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