CHENNAI: In a stinging attack on the Collegium system for appointment and transfer of judges, a former judge of the Supreme Court has described it as having degenerated into a “give and take” policy and thereby seriously in risk of compromising the quality of people presiding over the High Courts and Supreme Court.
Justice AK Patnaik, who stepped down as a SC judge after serving for two decades, said: “Many competent people were ignored and those close to SC Collegium members were chosen as there was no objective assessment for the selections.”
Justice Patnaik said selection of judges is too important to be left to the frailties of one human being (read Chief Justice). The SC Collegium comprises the Chief Justice and four senior judges. Justice Patnaik first served as a judge of the Orissa HC before being elevated as Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh HC and later transferred as Chief Justice of the MP HC. He added, “I was overlooked because I stood by my views.” By the time he finally made it to the SC, he lost the opportunity of becoming the CJI.
Interestingly, one of the suggestions made by the government in the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for appointment of judges was that if the senior-most Chief Justice of a HC is not being considered, the reasons for the rejection should be recorded.
Speaking to The Sunday Standard in the light of the controversy triggered by Justice J Chelameshwar’s refusal to attend Collegium meetings as they are not transparent, Justice Patnaik said the 1994 judgement in the Second Judges Case gave independence to the judiciary but those who have been members of collegiums at the HC and SC-levels have not proved themselves to be “detached”.
He said that all that the court could have done was to strike down the proposal of having “two eminent persons” in the composition of the panel for selection of judges. He added that the Collegium system has diminished the autonomy of the High Court judges.