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IN a much-anticipated move to appoint regular chief justices for High Courts instead of having acting chiefs for months together, the Supreme Court collegium headed by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar has recommended nine names to the government for taking over as regular High Court chief justices.
If cleared by the government, this could be the highest number of appointments of chief justices made in one go. Further, four of these names take into account the vacancies likely to be created in high courts after their chief justices are elevated to the top court as judges pursuant to the recommendation made separately by the collegium to the government last week.
According to sources, the names recommended for appointments as HC chief justices are: Justice Hemant Gupta for Madhya Pradesh High Court; Justice Abhilasha Kumari for Tripura High Court; Justice B D Ahmed for Jammu and Kashmir High Court; Justice Pradeep Nandarajog for Rajasthan High Court; Justice Rajendra Menon for Patna High Court; Justice T Vaiphei for Hyderabad High Court; Justice H G Ramesh for Madras High Court; Justice T B Radhakrishnan for Chhattisgarh High Court and Justice P K Mohanty for Jharkhand High Court.
The recommendations signify a major move forward amid a long-drawn battle between the judiciary and the government over the authority to appoint judges.
After the apex court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) in October 2015 and revived the collegium, a tug-of-war followed between the judiciary and the executive with almost all major recommendations by the collegium getting blocked by the government on account of one reason or another. The tussle resulted in the Supreme Court falling short of eight judges – one of the highest number of vacancies ever. Not a single recommendation for SC judgeship was made to the government by the collegium headed by Justice Khehar’s predecessor, CJI T S Thakur, since December 2015.
Madhya Pradesh HC has an acting chief justice since May 2016 — one of the longest time a high court has been without a regular chief.
Justice Rajendra Menon, the acting chief justice of the Madhya Pradeh HC will now go as regular chief of Patna High Court. The existing Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) on appointment of judges lay down that “ordinarily the arrangement of appointment of an acting Chief Justice should not be made for more than one month.”
Justice Abhilasha Kumari, who was appointed as a judge in Gujarat High Court in 2006, is the daughter of Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister and veteran Congress leader Virbhadra Singh. She will become the chief justice of Tripua HC. Justice T Vaiphei is currently the chief justice of Tripura HC who will now be transferred to the Hyderabad HC, which had an acting chief since July last year.
Of the nine names, two senior judges to be appointed as chief justices are from the Delhi HC. Justices B D Ahmed and Pradeep Nandarajog have been serving in the Delhi HC since December 2002. Justice Ahmed has been the acting chief justice of Delhi HC twice for a few months in 2013 and 2014.
Karnataka HC judge H G Ramesh has been recommended for Madras High Court whose current chief justice S K Kaul has been recommended for elevation to the Supreme Court as a judge.
Similarly, Kerala High Court judge Justice T B Radhakrishnan is likely to be appointed as the next chief Justice of Chhattisgarh High Court, whose current chief justice Justice Deepak Gupta is expected to be appointed as a judge in the apex court if the government accepts the recommendation sent by the collegium last week whereby four HC chief justices and a Karnataka HC judge were preferred to be elevated to the Supreme Court.
Apart from Justices S K Kaul and Deepak Gupta, Rajasthan HC chief justice Navin Sinha, Kerala HC chief justice Mohan Shantanagoudar and Karnataka HC judge Abdul Nazeer have been recommended as SC judges by the collegium.
Justice P K Mohanty, who has been the acting chief justice of Jharkhand HC since October 2016, has been recommended for being given permanent charge. Justice Mohanty retires in June 2017.