The judges of the Supreme Court: An analysis of parent High courts

Ancient map of India
Ancient map of India

The Supreme Court of India started functioning on January 28, 1950 from the Chamber of Princes in the Parliament House, the seat of the erstwhile Federal Court. Inaugurated just two days after India’s Constitution was adopted and the nation became a sovereign, democratic republic, the Supreme Court shifted to its present building at Tilak Marg in 1958.

Besides being the highest Constitutional court which can be moved directly under Article 32 against the violation of fundamental rights, the Supreme Court is also the highest appellate court of the country. As it stands today, it is not just deciding and interpreting the Indian Constitution, inter-state disputes or important questions of law; it is also the final forum for many statutory appeals, deciding individual disputes on facts.

The judges of the Supreme Court of India have played a significant role in shaping Indian democracy, the Indian Constitution itself and the umpteen laws, which govern the country. Commencing with eight judges, the strength of the Court was steadily raised and currently stands at 31.

In this compilation, we bring out the data regarding the parent High Courts of the judges of the Supreme Court. The parent High Court of a judge is the High Court to which the concerned judge was first elevated to the Bench.

The judges have been divided into two categories for the purpose of this piece – puisne judges and Chief Justice of India. Sitting judges who will become CJI in the future are counted under the head of puisne judge and not categorised as CJI.

The Silent Quota

An unwritten quota system is prevalent in the Supreme Court as per which at least one judge from each High Court has to be part of the apex court’s bench. The column sheds some light on this aspect, as well as the region-wise distribution of judges. The analysis also includes classification post-1993 and pre-1993; it was in the year 1993 that the Collegium system of appointing judges came into existence.

The primary source of all the information pertaining to past and present judges is the data available on the Supreme Court’s website. This information is rarely presented in a standardised format; and what further complicates matters is the fact that during the first few years of its existence, the Supreme Court judges came from different parts of undivided India. Many of them had started their career in High Courts which are either currently in Pakistan, or no longer in existence.

Attributing or associating such a judge to his or her parent High Court was, thus, a slight challenge at times.

Judges – The complete picture

In the 66 years of its existence, the Supreme Court has had two hundred and twenty-four judges. Out of these two hundred and twenty-four judges, forty-three were appointed as the Chief Justice of India.

Barring seven judges, who were directly elevated from the Bar, the remaining two hundred and seventeen judges were appointed from the 24 High Courts across the country.

The seven judges who were elevated from the Bar are SM Sikri, SC Roy, Kuldip Singh, N Santosh Hegde, Rohinton Fali Nariman, UU Lalit and L Nageswara Rao.

Another noteworthy fact is that out of the two hundred and twenty-four judges, there have been only six women judges till date; none of them becoming the CJI. The first woman judge of the Supreme Court was Justice Fatima Beevi. Interestingly, she was appointed to the Supreme Court around six months after her retirement from the Kerala High Court.

So who leads the tables?

The Bombay High Court has contributed the maximum number of judges to the Supreme Court. Sixteen puisne judges and seven CJIs of the Supreme Court have had Bombay as their parent High Court taking the total number to twenty-three.

The Calcutta High Court comes next with twenty-two judges followed by Madras High Court with twenty-one and the Allahabad High Court with twenty.

Together, these four High Courts account for eighty-six of the two hundred and twenty-four Supreme Court judges or nearly 38% of all apex court judges so far.

Six High Courts have never had a judge in the Supreme Court – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura and Sikkim. All of these courts though were established in the last two decades.

The two Himalayan States of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have contributed one judge each to the apex court.

The Chief Justice(s) of India

The Bombay High Court wins this department too with seven out of the forty-three CJIs having Bombay as their parent High Court. Calcutta comes next with six followed by Allahabad with five. The Karnataka High Court has had four judges who have adorned the post of CJI.

Apart from the six High Courts which have not contributed a single judge to the Supreme Court, Andhra Pradesh & Telangana, Gauhati, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand High Courts have never had a CJI in Supreme Court.

One of the CJIs, Mehr Chand Mahajan, was first elevated to the Lahore High Court, and later became a judge of the East Punjab High Court. This particular High Court went on to become what is now the Punjab & Haryana High Court.

Of the judges elevated from the Bar, only one has become the CJI till date – Justice SM Sikri.

As mentioned earlier, India has never had a woman Chief Justice. Justice Ruma Pal came the closest to achieving that feat but missed out due to a bad stroke of luck. Justice Pal and Justice YK Sabharwal were to be sworn in on the same day but the communication to Justice Pal reached her late thus, delaying her trip to Delhi. This meant that Justice Sabharwal was sworn in a few hours before Justice Pal.

Had Justice Pal been sworn in along with Justice Sabharwal, Pal would have pipped Sabharwal for the post of CJI on account of the fact that her name was higher in the alphabetical order. But it was not to be!

Collegium – Before and after

An analysis of data before and after the Second Judge’s verdict also reveals some interesting facts. For instance, the Delhi High court has been the biggest gainer post the Collegium case. Before the Collegium came into existence, there were two judges from the Delhi High Court in the Supreme Court but the number increased to ten after the coming into existence of Collegium.

Gauhati has also witnessed an increase in strength at the Supreme Court going up from three to six. Calcutta has, however, seen a reduction in numbers after Collegium case, with its tally reducing from fourteen to eight.

A region-wise analysis 

A grouping of High Courts into five regions reveals some interesting statistics. The north-eastern region has contributed only nine judges to the Supreme Court; no judge from the north-east has become the CJI yet. All the judges from the north-east have come from Gauhati High Court though three of the 5 High Courts in the north-east were established only in March of 2013.

The seven high courts in the north have contributed a total of fifty-eight judges to the Supreme Court including eleven CJIs.

The four High Courts in the south have contributed fifty-seven judges in all, while the two western High Courts have thirty-three Supreme Court judges to their credit.

The eastern region with four High Courts has had forty-seven Supreme Court judges while the two High Courts in central India have had thirteen.

Another interesting statistic relates to the number of women judges. Though the northern region has contributed the maximum number of judges, there has been no woman judge till date from the seven northern High Courts.

Bombay has contributed two women to the Supreme Court Bench while Calcutta, Kerala, Patna and Madras have had one each.

Equal representation?

The Collegium tries to ensure that there is at least one judge from every High Court in the Supreme Court. This has been a subject matter of debate and difference of opinion amongst the members of the Bar itself.

KV Viswanathan
KV Viswanathan

Senior Advocate KV Viswanathan feels that diversity in Supreme Court is essential in a vast country like India. He says:

“Experts in fields like criminal law and taxation also have to be considered. There has to be diversity.

In England, some men of Asian origin have been appointed. Mr. Rabindra Singh has been appointed at the age of forty seven as a High Court judge which is commendable.

Apart from merit, they look at diversity. We also need to consider that because we are a diverse society.”

Aside from these, there are also other considerations like religion and caste etc. The Indian Express had recently reported that following the retirement of two judges earlier this year, the Supreme Court has been functioning without a Muslim judge for the first time in 11 years.

Shafeeq Rehman Mahajir
Shafeeq Rehman Mahajir

However, advocate Shafeeq Rehman Mahajir feels that the only criterion for becoming a judge should be merit and nothing else.

“I believe that the system in which you determine that every district in a State is represented in the concerned [High] Court or every State is represented in the Supreme Court is a flawed system.

The only relevant criteria should be merit.

Why is it that you need X number of Reddy judges or Y number of Kamma judges or Z number of Muslim judges? How does this matter? The only consideration should be the person’s capability to deliver justice, understand the issues, apply the law and reach the right conclusion”, says Mahajir.

Despite these, certain facts are very obvious from the above data. The marginal representation that the north-eastern region has had in Supreme Court is one of them. It has had only 9 judges so far which comes to around 4 percent of the total Supreme Court judges. However, that might not paint the full picture since the north-eastern states house less than 4 percent of the total population of the country.

Justice Ranjan Gogoi from Gauhati High Court is slated to be the first CJI from north-east as well as the Gauhati High Court.

As mentioned earlier, the poor representation of women is another fact that can be asserted without any data compilation. With just six woman judges till date, women’s representation in Supreme Court stands at a mere 2.6 percent.

Furthermore, the seven northern High Courts, which have accounted for the maximum number of Supreme court judges, have not  had a single woman judge in the Supreme Court.

However, as Senior Advocate RS Suri puts it,

“….Supreme Court, has been evolving and emerging. It has gone beyond what our Constituent Assembly envisaged.”

It is the Court itself which has corrected its failings and shortcomings. And it would, hopefully, continue to do so as it marches ahead with time.

(Last edited on 08 November at 10:52)

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