Even as the decision of Supreme Court judge J Chelameswar to keep away from Collegium meetings set off a nation-wide debate on the current process of appointment of judges and left the fraternity sharply divided, the judge himself appears in no mood to bury the issue. According to informed sources, Justice Chelameswar, who cited the lack of transparency in the judicial selection process as the reason for his decision, has made up his mind not to attend Collegium meetings for the remainder of his judgeship in the highest court — which will end in June 2018 — unless the issues raised by him are addressed effectively. Given this scenario, with many former judges and legal experts sailing with the views expressed by the judge and others railing at him, it remains to be seen how Chief Justice of India, Justice T S Thakur, will do what he told journalists the other day: “We will sort it out.”
As reported first by The New Indian Express, it was on September 1 that Justice Chelameswar shot off a three-page letter to the Chief Justice of India stating that the entire process of appointment of judges was “opaque” even to members of the Collegium and, therefore, he saw no merit in attending its meetings. His contention was that dissent, if any, on the Collegium’s recommendations was not being recorded and that the entire exercise was shrouded in secrecy.
The political executive has so far chosen to maintain stoic silence on the issue raised by Justice Chelameswar who incidentally was the only judge to have upheld the National Judicial Accountability Act (NJAC) in October 2015, differing with four brother judges who struck it down. The NJAC Act provided a role for the executive and members of civil society in the selection of judges. By coincidence or otherwise, within days after Justice Chelameswar’s letter, the Supreme Court Collegium rejected many of the recommendations for judgeship of the Allahabad High Court which were received by it after “vetting” by the government of India. The reason for the rejection is said to be the “adverse remarks” posted against the names recommended in April.
In the meantime, a member of the HC Collegium which made the recommendations has been elevated to the Supreme Court! This is not the first time this has happened.
While legal experts Soli Sorabjee and Fali S Nariman have expressed reservations about the manner in which Justice Chelameswar has chosen to ventilate his views — the latter suggesting that the judge should have quit — some retired judges to whom this newspaper spoke to felt it was time transparency was brought in with regard to appointment of judges. “I do not want to enter the issue because I am not aware of the circumstances in which Justice Chelameswar wrote the letter. However, I am all for transparency in every process that the highest court of this country follows,” Justice Kuldeep Singh, a former judge of the apex court said.
Another retired SC judge, K T Thomas was more forthcoming. “The issues raised by Justice Chelameswar are not his personal or private matters. They have great importance for the nation. I expect a mature opinion from those who are critical of the judge or are suggesting that he should have quit before raising his voice,” Justice Thomas remarked. He pointed out that during the course of arguments on the NJAC Act, quite a few lawyers had argued how many appointments had gone wrong and why there was a need to relook at the process.
Justice S S Sodhi, who served as chief justice of the Allahabad High Court, said he is all for transparency and hoped that it would come about at some point of time. “The least that could be done is to make public papers relating to the appointment of a judge once he/she retires. That in itself could act as a deterrent for any wrong-doing while making the selection,” he suggested.