The government on Wednesday notified its acceptance of the first name, but continued to sit tight over Justice Joseph’s name.
It appears that the Narendra Modi government is keen to establish that it would not permit the Supreme Court an unhindered voice in the appointment of judges to the high courts and the Supreme Court, in effect interfering with judicial independence. In January, the Supreme Court collegium had recommended senior advocate Indu Malhotra and Uttarakhand high court chief justice K.M. Joseph for elevation as Supreme Court judges. The government on Wednesday notified its acceptance of the first name, but continued to sit tight over Justice Joseph’s name.
Technically, it has not rejected Mr Joseph. If it does that and the collegium recommends his name a second time, the government will have to accept him under the existing procedure. Surprisingly, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra’s reaction was that the executive was well within its rights to segregate the two recommendations made and accept only one.
This appears a less than robust counter by the CJI amid repeated assertions by senior judges that the executive is trying to undermine the judiciary’s independence, and a move to impeach him. The general suspicion is that Justice Joseph’s name is being sought to be blocked by the Centre as in 2016 he had held illegal the imposition of President’s Rule in Uttarakhand. Earlier, this government also blocked his transfer to the Telangana high court.
In March and April, Supreme Court judges have written on three occasions to the CJI, urging him to convene the full court to discuss ways to safeguard judicial independence. On Thursday, around 100 Supreme Court lawyers also urged the defence of judicial independence. The CJI, however, appears to be blocking such moves.