Ask and thou shalt receive: How Supreme Court Collegium 'transparently' aired out Central government's objections to five appointments

The coming days might see a response from the government to the Collegium's salvo, but for now, it is safe to say that CJI DY Chandrachud is picking his battles, and wisely.
CJI DY Chandrachud, Supreme Court and Kiren Rijiju
CJI DY Chandrachud, Supreme Court and Kiren Rijiju

The battle between the Central government and the Supreme Court Collegium intensified on Wednesday, with the Collegium firing a salvo of criticism at the Union Law Ministry.

In what could be a first, in its statements published on the Supreme Court website, the Collegium revealed in detail why the Central government objected to the candidature of various persons recommended by the judges' body for elevation to High Courts.

And the revelations by the Collegium do not paint a pretty picture of the Law Ministry, to put it mildly.

The statements reiterating the proposals to elevate the following three lawyers are a case in point.

Saurabh Kirpal - Delhi High Court

Government's reason for rejection: He is openly gay, could be biased; his partner is a Swiss national.

Collegium's response: Constitution recognises right to sexual orientation; Kirpal will add diversity to the Delhi High Court. Having a foreign national as a partner is not a disqualification.

Somasekhar Sundaresan - Bombay High Court

Government's stand: Sundaresan aired his views on social media about pending cases.

Collegium's response: Expression of views by a candidate is not a disqualification.

R John Sathyan - Madras High Court

Government: Sathyan shared an article critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and another one on the suicide of a medical aspirant.

Collegium: Sharing an article does not impinge on suitability, character or integrity of candidate.

In another resolution reiterating for the second time its recommendation to elevate Advocates Amitesh Banerjee and Sakya Sen as judges of the Calcutta High Court, the Collegium expressed its anguish with the Union Law Ministry's Department of Justice (DoJ) for not approving the names of Banerjee and Sen since July 2019.

What stands out in these resolutions is how the Collegium has addressed the chief criticism that has been consistently levelled against it -transparency, or rather the lack thereof.

The Collegium has often been criticised for its closed-door functioning, opacity and give-and-take compromises with the executive.

Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju has been relentless in his attacks against the Collegium, calling it out for having no Constitutional basis and seeking a greater say for the government in appointing judges to the High Courts and the Supreme Court.

Most recently, he had written to Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud suggesting that government representatives be included in the Supreme Court and High Court Collegiums.

Rijiju has found a vocal ally in Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar, himself a Senior Advocate who has also been critical of the Collegium.

Interestingly, this has also coincided with an attack on social media against CJI Chandrachud, who also heads the Collegium.

The Collegium has now chosen to respond by instilling some transparency, albeit limited to cases in which Law Ministry has raised objections.

Pertinently, the Collegium is also backed on the judicial side by a bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, which has been frequently urging the Central government to clear the Collegium recommendations and to adhere to the law laid down by the top court in the Second Judges case and the National Judicial Appointments Commission case.

The coming days might see a response from the government to the Collegium's salvo.

But for now, it is safe to say that the CJI is picking his battles, and wisely.

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