In a profound example of how appointment to higher judiciary needs pathbreaking reforms, two high court chief justices were selected in December but dumped later by the Supreme Court collegium and replaced by another two in another collegium meet in January.
Although the Supreme Court collegium sought to explain the volte-face in a release on 10 January, very few people were convinced.
"While recommending the names of Mr. Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna the Collegium has taken into consideration combined seniority on all-India basis of Chief Justices and senior puisne Judges of High Courts, apart from their merit and integrity. The Collegium has also kept in mind the desirability of giving due representation on the Bench of the Supreme Court, as far as possible, to all the High Courts," the release said.
Venting his ire, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court AP Shah said, "What has happened in this instance shows that the Collegium system continues to be opaque, secretive and unaccountable. The judges deciding the NJAC case spoke of reforms, what happened to that? There are no reforms, and no move to change anything. What happened between December and January? Only one Judge in the Collegium changed. Now this is routine in Collegium, such changes will take place."
Following are the profiles of the four judges who grabbed the headlines and had their shares of tears and cheers:
Justice Pradeep Nandrajog
Disappointment would be profound for Rajasthan High Court Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog, who got abruptly dropped from being promoted as a Supreme Court judge. Ironically, he was rejected by the same Supreme Court Collegium which had earlier considered him fit for the post. The collegium — consisting of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justices Madan B Lokur, AK Sikri, SA Bobde and NV Ramana — met on 12 December, 2018, and decided on appointments to the apex court.
However, after Justice Lokur retired on 31 December, the new Collegium, now including Justice Arun Mishra, met again on 5-6 January, revoked the earlier decision and recommended fresh names. This is when Justice Nandrajog got axed from the promotion list only to be superseded by Justice Sanjeev Khanna, who surprisingly superseded 31 other judges while being recommended for this coveted post.
Born on 24 February, 1958, Justice Nandrajog took over as the Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court on 2 April, 2017. He was enrolled as an advocate with the Bar Council of Delhi in 1981. He specialised in litigations pertaining to arbitration, commercial, service, election, land revenue, company and miscellaneous writ matters.
Justice Nandrajog was a counsel for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi for about six years and was also the nominated Counsel for the Election Commission of the Government of NCT Delhi.
Son of a former Delhi High Court judge justice Prithvi Raj, Justice Nandrajog started his schooling in Shimla where he enrolled himself first at the Auckland House School and later on shifted to St Edward’s School for the primary section. A Chemistry graduate from the University of Delhi in 1978, Justice Nandrajog did his LLB from the same university in 1981.
With a career spanning about 22 years, Justice Nadrajog was appointed as the additional judge of the Delhi High Court on 20 December, 2002 and became a permanent judge in the same court on 16 April, 2004.
While delivering a farewell speech on the elevation of Justice Nandrajog as the Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court on 30 March, 2017, the then chief justice of Delhi High Court G Rohini had said, "Justice Nandrajog is known for his precise articulation and felicity of expression. His far-sightedness coupled with extraordinary intellect and desire to decide even the most complex and difficult issues is vividly reflected in his judgments. His judgments are also testimony to his liberal attitude in dispensing justice to the underprivileged and vulnerable groups of the society."
Justice Nandrajog had been part of many key judgments when it comes to divorce cases.
On 17 February 2017, Justice Nandrajog as a part of a Delhi High Court bench comprising himself and Justice Yogesh Khanna had taken a grim view of children being used as a tool of vengeance by parents in divorce cases as a part of custody battles.
According to Livelaw, the high court bench had observed, "A perusal of Article 39 (e) & (f) of the Constitution of India would guide that of the various fundamental rights of a child, one valuable right is to get love and affection from both parents, right to quality of life, right to be cared and the right to develop a sense of belonging.”
In another landmark judgment on 3 November, 2016, Justice Nandrajog along with Justice Pratibha Rani had said that denial of sex to husband during pregnancy does not amount to cruelty in the Sumit vs Preeti case.
According to Livelaw, the duo observed, “The plea that Preeti denied consortium to Sumit after August 2012, even if truth has to be understood in light of the fact that by the third week of May 2012, Preeti was in the family way, the girl child being born to the couple on January 23, 2013. Carrying a foetus in the womb, Preeti would obviously be inconvenienced by sex and assuming she totally shunned sex with the petitioner as her pregnancy grew would not constitute cruelty.”
On 6 February, 2017, Justice Nandrajog and Justice Yogesh Khanna had said in another verdict that "an act of infidelity by either spouse, irrespective of the gender, is on an equal footing and would cause mental cruelty to the other spouse with the same intensity."
Criticising the CJI Gogoi-led Supreme Court Collegium for abruptly preventing Justice Nandrajog's elevation, former chief justice of Delhi High Court, Justice Shah said according to a report in The Indian Express, "I have worked with Justice Nandrajog and he is a very fine judge, as are others superseded."
Justice Rajendra Menon
Delhi High Court Chief Justice Justice Rajendra Menon's name was also removed from the elevation list as an apex court judge by the Supreme Court collegium.
A science graduate from Government Science College, Jabalpur under Rani Durgawati University and law graduate in 1981 from NSE Law College, Jabalpur, Menon was born on 7 June 1957.
From 1991, Justice Menon was standing counsel for several private and public sector undertakings like South Eastern Coal Fields Ltd, Northern Coalfields Ltd, Western Coalfields Ltd., Syndicate Bank, Union Bank of India, Vijaya Bank, Rani Durgawati University, MP Dairy Development Corporation, Associated Companies Ltd, Reliance Industried Limited, Tata Motors and various other establishments until he was elevated to the bench on April 2002 as additional judge of Madhya Pradesh High Court.
Prior to becoming Acting Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court from 13 May, 2016 to 14 March, 2017, he was with the Gwalior Bench and then with the Principal Bench in Jabalpur. He was also the welfare commissioner for the Bhopal Gas Victims Compensation Commission between December, 2010 and March, 2015. Justice Menon was elevated as the Chief Justice of Patna High Court on 15 March 2017 and continued till 7 August, 2018 after which he was shifted to Delhi High Court as Chief Justice on 9 August 2018.
Chief Justice Menon had been part of key judgments in his long career spanning decades.
In December last year, a bench of Justice Menon and Justice VK Rao of the Delhi High Court grabbed headlines when they ordered a ban on the sale of online medicines by e-pharmacists across the country and directed the Centre and the AAP government to immediately implement the order.
In another case, according to a report in The Indian Express, the Maintenance Tribunal constituted under The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 has the power to evict legal heirs from self-acquired or ancestral property of parents on account of ill-treatment or non-maintenance. A bench comprising Chief Justice Menon and Justice VK Rao while upholding the 18 July order of a single judge and a district magistrate, who had directed her to vacate the first-floor of her in-laws’ house, said, "It is high time that senior citizens/parents are allowed to live in peace and tranquility, the orders passed by the Maintenance Tribunal and the Single Judge cannot be faulted."
However, Chief Justice Menon has his own share of controversy as well.
On 16 July, 2018, former additional solicitor general of India Indira Jaising in a stinging piece criticising the Supreme Court Collegium's decision to transfer Chief Justice Menon to Delhi High Court had referred to the "incriminating comments from a Joint Inquiry Committee led by Justice Banumathi, as per he (Chief Justice Menon) has been found guilty of wrongfully and punitively transferring a former woman ADJ who had accused Justice S K Gangele of Madhya Pradesh of sexually harassing her."
Nevertheless, expressing his disappointment over Justice Menon's rejection as a Supreme Court judge, former chief justice of Delhi High Court Justice Shah said, "Why the decision on Justice Menon has been reversed is also a mystery. This will have a very demoralising effect on the system."
On Wednesday, the Bar Council of Delhi (BCD) appealed to the Supreme Court Collegium to consider the candidature of Justice Menon for elevation to the Supreme Court. According to Livelaw, the BCD resolution said, "It is further resolved that the Senior Judges of the Delhi High Court as also the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, who have been ignored by the Collegium should be considered by the Collegium and elevated by the Hon'ble Supreme Court along with Justice Sanjeev Khanna, who has already been recommended vide Resolution dated 10.01.2019."
Justice Sanjiv Khanna
From the ongoing controversy over the judges' appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice Sanjiv Khanna of the Delhi High Court seems to be the biggest beneficiary. His name came up in the collegium meet held on 5-6 January where his name was put forward to be promoted as a Supreme Court judge. Surprisingly, Justice Khanna supersedes 32 other judges to become a part of the apex court. His elevation shocked many and was subjected to severe criticism by many legal luminaries.
As per a Livelaw report, former Delhi High Court judge and senior advocate Kailash Gambhir wrote to the President of India, questioning the Supreme Court Collegium's recommendations.
"I humbly urge your Excellency to kindly ponder over as the head of our 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 independency of judiciary in the country survive," Gambhir wrote.
The Bar Council of India also protested the Supreme Court collegium's recommendation to elevate Justice Khanna to the apex court by superseding several other judges and termed the decision as "whimsical and arbitrary".
The BCI, which is an apex body of lawyers, said the decision of the five-member collegium headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi was viewed by the Bar and the common man as "unjust and improper". Justice Khanna stands at Sl.No. 33 in the combined seniority of high court judges on all-India basis.
Born on 14 May, 1960, Justice Khanna, a Delhi University graduate, had joined the Bar Council of Delhi in 1983. According to the Delhi High Court website, his area of practice included included taxation, arbitration, commercial, environment & pollution and writ jurisdiction matters.
It goes on to say that "as an advocate, he had handled several matters of medical negligence under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, and company law matters before the Company Law Board and the Delhi High Court". Justice Khanna was elevated as an additional judge of the Delhi High Court on 24 June, 2005 and became a permanent judge on 20 February, 2006.
Among the key judgment that Justice Khanna has been part of, the Delhi High Court on 23 May, 2011 had came down heavily on the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission "for not keeping within the statutory role ascribed to it".
According to a Governance Now report, the court said, "The commission under the 2003 Act is required to deal with the aspect of tariff determination with intellectual integrity, transparent functionalism and normative objectivity and not act in a manner by which its functioning invite doubt with regard to its credibility."
The judgment also reprimanded the Delhi government for “unjustifiably intruding and encroaching on the functions of the commission by interdicting”. The then Delhi High Court chief justice Dipak Mishra, who later went on to become the Chief Justice of India, was also part of the two-judge bench.
Justice Dinesh Maheshwari
Overlooked by the Supreme Court collegium in its December meeting, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari has been fortunate enough in January to have got the collegium nod to join the apex court as a judge. According to an Indian Express report, reacting to Justice Maheshwari's appointment, former CJI RM Lodha said, "It is strange that Justice Maheshwari is recommended six weeks after being superseded."
However, Justice Maheshwari also does not fall in the seniormost category.
A communique on the Supreme Court website announcing Justice Maheshwari's elevation said,"Mr Justice Dinesh Maheshwari stands at Sl No 21 in the combined seniority of High Court Judges on all-India basis."
Former Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Maheshwari was born on 15 May, 1958 and graduated in law from Jodhpur University in 1980. Starting his career as an advocate on 8 March, 1981, he mainly practised mainly on litigation related to civil and constitutional aspects.
Justice Maheshwari had joined the Rajasthan High Court on 2 September, 2004 and later joined Allahabad High Court on 19 July, 2014. He took oath as the Chief Justice of the Meghalaya High Court on 24 February, 2016 before being transferred to the High Court of Karnataka on 12 February, 2018 in the same capacity.
In his capacity as a judge, Justice Maheswari has been involved in many important verdicts during the course of his career.
As per a Livelaw report, in a order passed on 21 November, 2018 on the misuse of PILs along with Justice S Sujatha by the Karnataka High Court, the bench observed, "Public Interest Litigation cannot be used as a tool to wreck vengeance as well as to malign the morale of the officers. The fundamental object of public interest litigation is to enforce fundamental rights and genuine infraction of statutory provisions but not to set right the private dispute or to bring the parties to terms."
Giving the court's view on the legality and powers of a deputy chief minister on 5 July, 2018, a Karnataka High Court bench comprising Justice Maheshwari and Justice Krishna S Dixit dismissed a PIL that challenged the appointment of G Parmeshwar as deputy chief minister of Karnataka with costs.
The court said, "We are clearly of the view that with the consistent decisions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court as also of different High Courts, it is beyond the pale of doubt that mere description of any Minister in the Council of Ministers as Deputy Chief Minister does not confer the person concerned with any powers of the Chief Minister and does not result in any unconstitutionality."
In another case by the same bench on 11 October, 2018, the court dismissed a plea by Vijay Mallya seeking restoration of his appeal filed before the Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal that had dismissed his appeal as he did not deposit a sum of Rs 3,101 crore within prescribed time. "The bench comprising Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Krishna S. Dixit observed that the 2016 amendment to Section 21 of Recovery of Debts due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993 that restricted the power of DRAT to waive pre-deposit not below 25% of decreetal amount, is retrospective," Livelaw reported.
Justice Maheshwari was however embroiled in a controversy last March when he agreed to probe a judge on Centre's request whose elevation to the Karnataka High Court was already cleared by the Supreme Court collegium.
"In what raises questions of propriety and process, Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court Justice Dinesh Maheshwari has this month started an enquiry on a complaint directly forwarded to him by the Union Law Ministry against P Krishna Bhat, Principal District and Sessions Judge. Bhat had been cleared for elevation to the Karnataka High Court by the Supreme Court Collegium in April 2017," an Indian Express report had said.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Jan 17, 2019 16:43:02 IST