Amid controversy, Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Delhi High Court Judge Sanjiv Khanna will take oath as Supreme Court judges on Friday. The names were receommended for elevation on January 10 and President Ram Nath Kovind signed their warrants of appointment on Wednesday.
While Justice Maheshwari is at serial number 21 of all-India seniority list of judges, Justice Khanna is at 33.
Former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha said though the all-India seniority list was not followed in elevation to the top court, seniority of a judge in the high court from where he or she was to be elevated was important.
Justice Lodha wondered how three judges from the Delhi High Court who were senior to Justice Khanna were ignored, particularly when two of them were already working as chief justices (of Rajasthan HC and Jammu and Kashmir HC).
“The seniority principle so far as parent high court from where the elevation is taking place must be followed, unless there are cogent reasons justifying deviation from it,” Justice Lodha said, adding that no such justification has been given by the collegium.
Senior counsel Meet Malhotra said the decision has upset the time-honoured tradition on elevations. “Further, had such a bypass been attempted at the behest of the executive, there would have been hysterical outpouring of interference in working of judiciary and subversion all around, not least from the superior judiciary itself. To see the judiciary do this to itself, is, therefore, all the more puzzling,” Malhotra said in a letter to the CJI.
He requested the CJI to reconsider it, saying it “has the potential of being massively disruptive and demoralising to the judiciary and liable to be misused in the future”.
Earlier, former Delhi High Court Judge Kailash Gambhir had written to President Kovind, questioning the supersession of several senior judges.
On Wednesday, the Bar Council of India had taken exception to the collegium’s decision to ignore several senior judges, saying it was being viewed by the Bar and the common man as “unjust and improper”.
A five-member collegium headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had on January 10 recommended the elevation of Justice Maheshwari and Justice Khanna to the top court after reviewing its earlier deliberations held on December 12, 2018, in which Delhi HC Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Rajasthan HC Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog were said to have been considered for elevation.
Justice Sanjiv Khanna is the nephew of the legendary Justice HR Khanna, who is known for his famous dissenting verdict in the habeas corpus case during the Emergency. Justice HR Khanna had resigned after being superseded by Justice HM Beg as CJI.
Earlier, it was reported that Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who was consulted by the collegium on Justice Khanna’s elevation, had objected to the sidelining of Justice Nandrajog, saying he was the senormost among the judges in the zone of consideration.