Justice Akil Kureshi, the second senior-most High Court Chief Justice in the country after Justice AS Oka, did not find a place in the list of nine names recommended by the Supreme Court Collegium for elevation to the apex court.
This has led to objections from various sections of the Bar. However, this is not the first time a decision of the Supreme Court Collegium with respect to Justice Kureshi has come under the scanner.
The first was in 2018 when Justice Kureshi was transferred to the Bombay High Court when he was set to take over as Acting Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court, which is his parent High Court.
Justice R Subhash Reddy, the then Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court, had been elevated to the Supreme Court.
As per norm, the senior-most judge of the High Court would then automatically become Acting Chief Justice until a new Chief Justice is appointed.
However, in a resolution passed on October 29, 2018, the Supreme Court Collegium recommended the transfer of Justice Kureshi to the Bombay High Court as a puisne judge. While the reasons for this recommendation remain unclear, the Collegium resolution stated that the same was made “in the interest of better administration of justice.”
The Central government cleared the said resolution within a few days; his transfer was notified on November 1 and he was asked to take charge at the Bombay High Court by November 15.
In view of this, he would serve as Acting Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court for only two weeks after the elevation of Justice Reddy to the apex court.
But the Centre seemed to take exception even to this short tenure, as it proceeded to notify that Justice AS Dave, the second senior most judge, would serve as Acting Chief Justice superseding Justice Kureshi.
This, in fact, seemed to have broken all norms. Even the Collegium took exception to it and conveyed the same to the Centre. The Centre then issued a new notification appointing Justice Kureshi as Acting Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court albeit for a short period of two weeks before he took charge as a judge of the Bombay High Court.
Later, in May 2019, the Collegium recommended the appointment of Justice Kureshi, who was serving at the Bombay High Court, as Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
The Central government sat on the recommendation for some time before it sent back Justice Kureshi’s file in August 2019.
The Collegium gave in when on September 20, it modified its earlier resolution and resolved to appoint Justice Kureshi as Chief Justice of the Tripura High Court instead of the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
Both the 2018 and 2019 incidents had triggered objections from the Bar, with the Gujarat High Court Advocates Association filing petitions on both occasions before the Supreme Court regarding the same.
Justice Jayant Patel
Interestingly, Justice Kureshi is not the first judge from the Gujarat High Court to have been in the midst of an appointment-related controversy.
Four years ago, on September 25, 2017, Justice Jayant Patel resigned from the Karnataka High Court after the Collegium overlooked him for appointment as Chief Justice or Acting Chief Justice of the High Court.
Justice Patel, whose parent High Court was the Gujarat High Court, was transferred to the Karnataka High Court in 2016 as a puisne judge, fourth in seniority.
He was set to take over as Chief Justice or Acting Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court on resignation of Justice SK Mukherjee.
However, Justice Patel was again transferred to the Allahabad High Court as puisne judge, upon which he tendered his resignation.