IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 13 OF 2015
Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record -
Association and another … Petitioner(s)
Union of India … Respondent(s)
WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 14 OF 2015 WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 18 OF 2015
WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 23 OF 2015 WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 24 OF 2015
WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 70 OF 2015 WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 83 OF 2015
WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 108 OF 2015 WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 124 OF 2015
WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 209 OF 2015 WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 309 OF 2015
WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 310 OF 2015 WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 323 OF 2015
WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 341 OF 2015 TRANSFER PETITION(C) NO. 391 OF 2015
TRANSFER PETITION (C) NO. 971 OF 2015
J U D G M E N T
Jagdish Singh Khehar, J.
Sl.No Contents Paragraphs Pages
1. The Recusal Order 1 - 18 1 - 15
2. The Reference Order 1 - 101 16 - 169
I The Challenge 1 - 9 16 - 19
II. The Background to the Challenge 10 - 19 19 - 61
III. Motion by the respondents, for the review of the Second and Third Judges cases.
20 - 53 61 – 115
IV. Objection by the petitioners, to the Motion for review 54 - 59 115 – 124
V. The Consideration 60 - 100 124 – 168
VI. Conclusion 101 168 - 169
3. The Order on Merits 1 - 258 170 – 439
I. Preface 1 - 4 170 - 171
II. Petitioners’ Contentions, on Merits 5 - 66 171 - 252
III. Respondents’ Response on Merits. 67 - 132 253 - 325
IV. The Debate and the Deliberation 133 - 245 326 - 419
V. The effect of striking down the impugned
246 - 253 419 - 436
VI. Conclusions 254 - 256 436 - 438
VII. Acknowledgment 257 438 - 439
THE RECUSAL ORDER
1. In this Court one gets used to writing common orders, for orders are written either on behalf of the Bench, or on behalf of the Court. Mostly, dissents are written in the first person. Even though, this is not an order in the nature of a dissent, yet it needs to be written in the first person. While endorsing the opinion expressed by J. Chelameswar, J., adjudicating upon the prayer for my recusal, from hearing the matters in hand, reasons for my continuation on the Bench, also need to be expressed by me. Not for advocating any principle of law, but for laying down certain principles of conduct.
2. This order is in the nature of a prelude – a precursor, to the determination of the main controversy. It has been necessitated, for deciding an objection, about the present composition of the Bench. As already noted above, J. Chelameswar, J. has rendered the decision on the objection. The events which followed the order of J. Chelameswar, J., are also of some significance. In my considered view, they too need to be narrated, for only then, the entire matter can be considered to have been fully expressed, as it ought to be. I also need to record reasons, why my continuation on the reconstituted Bench, was the only course open to me. And therefore, my side of its understanding, dealing with the
perception, of the other side of the Bench.
3(i) A three-Judge Bench was originally constituted for hearing these matters. The Bench comprised of Anil R. Dave, J. Chelameswar and Madan B. Lokur, JJ.. At that juncture, Anil R. Dave, J. was a part of the 1+2 collegium, as also, the 1+4 collegium. The above combination heard the matter, on its first listing on 11.3.2015. Notice returnable for 17.3.2015 was issued on the first date of hearing. Simultaneously, hearing in Y. Krishnan v. Union of India and others, Writ Petition (MD) No.69 of 2015, pending before the High Court of Madras (at its Madurai Bench), wherein the same issues were being considered as the ones
raised in the bunch of cases in hand, was stayed till further orders.
(ii) On the following date, i.e., 17.3.2015 Mr. Fali S. Nariman, Senior Advocate, in Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India (Writ Petition (C) No.13 of 2015), Mr. Anil B. Divan, Senior Advocate, in Bar Association of India v. Union of India (Writ Petition (C) No.108 of 2015), Mr. Prashant Bhushan, Advocate, in Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Union of India (Writ Petition (C) No.83 of 2015) and Mr. Santosh Paul, Advocate, in Change India v. Union of India (Writ Petition (C) No.70 of 2015), representing the petitioners were heard. Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, Attorney General for India, advanced submissions in
response. The matter was shown as part-heard, and posted for further hearing on 18.3.2015.
(iii) The proceedings recorded by this Court on 18.3.2015 reveal, that Mr. Santosh Paul, (in Writ Petition (C) No.70 of 2015) was heard again on
18.3.2015, whereupon, Mr. Mukul Rohatgi and Mr. Ranjit Kumar, Solicitor General of India, also made their submissions. Thereafter, Mr. Dushyant A. Dave, Senior Advocate – and the President of Supreme Court Bar Association, addressed the Bench, as an intervener. Whereafter, the Court rose for the day. On 18.3.2015, the matter was adjourned for hearing to the following day, i.e., for 19.3.2015.
(iv) The order passed on 19.3.2015 reveals, that submissions were advanced on that date, by Mr. Dushyant A. Dave, Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, Mr. T.R. Andhyarujina, Senior Advocate, and Mr. Mathews J. Nedumpara. When Mr. Fali S. Nariman was still addressing the Bench, the Court rose for the day, by recording inter alia, “The matters remained Part-heard.” Further hearing in the cases, was deferred to 24.3.2015.
(v) On 24.3.2015, Mr. Fali S. Nariman and Mr. Anil B. Divan, were again heard. Additionally, Mr. Mukul Rohatgi concluded his submissions. On the conclusion of hearing, judgment was reserved. On 24.3.2015, a separate order was also passed in Writ Petition (C) No.124 of 2015 (Mathews J. Nedumpara v. Supreme Court of India, through Secretary General and others). It read as under:
“The application filed by Mr. Mathews J. Nedumpara to argue in person before the Court is rejected. The name of Mr. Robin Mazumdar, AOR, who was earlier appearing for him, be shown in the Cause List.”
(vi) On 7.4.2015, the following order came to be passed by the three-Judge Bench presided by Anil R. Dave, J.:
“1. In this group of petitions, validity of the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 and the National Judicial Appointment Commission Act, 2014 (hereinafter referred to as `the Act’) has been challenged. The challenge is on the ground that by virtue of the aforestated amendment and enactment of the Act, basic structure of the Constitution of India has been altered and therefore, they should be set aside.
2. We have heard the learned counsel appearing for the parties and the parties appearing in-person at length.
3. It has been mainly submitted for the petitioners that all these petitions should be referred to a Bench of Five Judges as per the provisions of Article 145(3) of the Constitution of India for the reason that substantial questions of law with regard to interpretation of the Constitution of India are involved in these petitions. It has been further submitted that till all these petitions are finally disposed of, by way of an interim relief it should be directed that the Act should not be brought into force and the present system with regard to appointment of Judges should be continued.
4. Sum and substance of the submissions of the counsel opposing the petition is that all these petitions are premature for the reason that the Act has not come into force till today and till the Act comes into force, cause of action can not be said to have arisen. In the circumstances, according to the learned counsel, the petitions should be rejected.
5. The learned counsel as well as parties in-person have relied upon several judgments to substantiate their cases.
6. Looking at the facts of the case, we are of the view that these petitions involve substantial questions of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution of India and therefore, we direct the Registry to place all the matters of this group before Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India so that they can be placed before a larger Bench for its consideration.
7. As we are not deciding the cases on merits, we do not think it appropriate to discuss the submissions made by the learned counsel and the parties in-person.
8. It would be open to the petitioners to make a prayer for interim relief before the larger bench as we do not think it appropriate to grant any interim relief at this stage.”
4. During the hearing of the cases, Anil R. Dave, J. did not participate in any collegium proceedings.
5. Based on the order passed by the three-Judge Bench on 7.4.2015, Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India, constituted a five-Judge Bench, comprising of Anil R. Dave, Chelameswar, Madan B. Lokur, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel, JJ.
6. On 13.4.2015 the Constitution (Ninety-ninth Amendment) Act, 2014, and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014, were notified in the Gazette of India (Extraordinary). Both the above enactments, were brought into force with effect from 13.4.2015. Accordingly, on 13.4.2015 Anil R. Dave, J. became an ex officio Member of the National Judicial Appointments Commission, on account of being the second senior most Judge after the Chief Justice of India, under the mandate of Article 124A (1)(b).
7. When the matter came up for hearing for the first time, before the five-Judge Bench on 15.4.2015, it passed the following order:
“List the matters before a Bench of which one of us (Anil R. Dave, J.) is
not a member.”
It is, therefore, that Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India, reconstituted the Bench with myself, J. Chelameswar, Madan B. Lokur, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel, JJ., to hear this group of cases.
8. When the reconstituted Bench commenced hearing on 21.4.2015, Mr. Fali S. Nariman made a prayer for my recusal from the Bench, which was seconded by Mr. Mathews J. Nedumpara (petitioner-in-person in Writ Petition (C) No.124 of 2015), the latter advanced submissions, even though he had been barred from doing so, by an earlier order dated 24.3.2015 (extracted above). For me, to preside over the Bench seemed to be imprudent, when some of the stakeholders desired otherwise. Strong views were however expressed by quite a few learned counsel, who opposed the prayer. It was submitted, that a prayer for recusal had
earlier been made, with reference to Anil R. Dave, J. It was pointed out, that the above prayer had resulted in his having exercised the option to step aside (– on 15.4.2015). Some learned counsel went to the extent of asserting, that the recusal of Anil R. Dave, J. was not only unfair, but was also motivated. It was also suggested, that the Bench should be reconstituted, by requesting Anil R. Dave, J. to preside over the Bench. The above sequence of facts reveals, that the recusal by Anil R. Dave, J. was not at his own, but in deference to a similar prayer made to him. Logically, if he had heard these cases when he was the presiding Judge of the three-Judge Bench, he would have heard it, when the Bench strength was increased, wherein, he was still the presiding Judge.
9(i) Mr. Fali S. Nariman strongly refuted the impression sought to be created, that he had ever required Anil R. Dave, J. to recuse. In order to support his assertion, he pointed out, that he had made the following request in writing on 15.4.2015:
“The provisions of the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 and of the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014 have been brought into force from April 13, 2015. As a consequence, the Presiding Judge on this Bench, the Hon’ble Mr. Justice Anil R. Dave, has now become (not out of choice but by force of Statute) a member ex officio of the National Judicial Appointments Commission, whose constitutional validity has been challenged. It is respectfully submitted that it would be appropriate if it is declared at the outset – by an order of this Hon’ble Court – that the Presiding Judge on this Bench will take no part whatever in the proceedings of the National Judicial Appointments Commission.”
Learned senior counsel pointed out, that he had merely requested the then presiding Judge (Anil R. Dave, J.) not to take any part in the proceedings of the National Judicial Appointments Commission, during the hearing of these matters. He asserted, that he had never asked Anil R. Dave, J. not to hear the matters pending before the Bench.
(ii) The submission made in writing by Mr. Mathews J. Nedumpara for the recusal of Anil R. Dave, J. was in the following words:
“….. VI. Though Hon’ble Shri Justice Anil R. Dave, who heads the Three-Judge Bench in the instant case, is a Judge revered and respected by the legal fraternity and the public at large, a Judge of the highest integrity, ability and impartiality, still the doctrine of nemo iudex in sua causa or nemo debet esse judex in propria causa – no one can be judge in his own cause – would require His Lordship to recuse himself even at this stage since in the eye of the 120 billion ordinary citizens of this country, the instant case is all about a law whereunder the exclusive power of appointment invested in the Judges case is taken away and is invested in the fair body which could lead to displeasure of the Judges and, therefore, the Supreme Court itself deciding a case involving the power of appointment of Judges of the Supreme Court will not evince public
credibility. The question then arises is as to who could decide it. The doctrine of necessity leaves no other option then the Supreme Court itself deciding the question. But in that case, it could be by Judges who are not part of the collegium as of today or, if an NJAC is to be constituted today, could be a member thereof. With utmost respect, Hon’ble Shri Justice Dave is a member of the collegium; His Lordship will be a member of the NJAC if it is constituted today. Therefore, there is a manifest conflict of interest.
VII. Referendum. In Australia, a Constitutional Amendment was brought in, limiting the retirement age of Judges to 70 years. Instead of the Judges deciding the correctness of the said decision, the validity of the amendment was left to be decided by a referendum, and 80% of the population supported the amendment. Therefore, the only body who could decide whether the NJAC as envisaged is acceptable or not is the people of this country upon a referendum.
VIII. The judgment in Judges-2, which made the rewriting of the Constitution, is void ab initio. The said case was decided without notice to the pubic at large. Only the views of the government and Advocates on record and a few others were heard. In the instant case, the public at large ought to be afforded an opportunity to be heard; at least the major political parties, and the case should be referred to Constitutional Bench. The constitutionality of the Acts ought to be decided, brushing aside the feeble, nay, apologetical plea of the learned Attorney General that the Acts have been brought into force and their validity cannot be challenged, and failing to come forward and state in candid terms that the Acts are the will of the people, spoken through their elected representatives and that too without any division, unanimous. The plea of the Advocates on Record Association that the notification bringing into force the said Acts be stayed be rejected forthwith; so too its demand that the collegium system, which has ceased to be in existence, be allowed to be continued and appointments to the august office of Judges of High Courts and Supreme Court on its recommendation, for to do so would mean that Judges of the High Courts who are currently Chief Justices because they were appointed at a young age in preference over others will be appointed as Judges of the Supreme Court and if that is allowed to happen, it may lead to a situation where the Supreme Court tomorrow will literally be packed with sons and sons-in-law of former Judges. There are at least three Chief Justices of High Courts who are sons of former Judges of the Supreme Court. The Petitioner is no privy to any confidential
information, not even gossips. Still he believes that if the implementation of the NJAC is stayed, three sons of former Judges of the Supreme Court could be appointed as Judges of the Supreme Court. The Petitioner has absolutely nothing personal against any of those Judges; the issue is not at all about any individual. The Petitioner readily concedes, and it is a pleasure to do so, that few of them are highly competent and richly deserving to be appointed.
IX. Equality before law and equal protection of law in the matter of public employment. The office of the Judge of the High Court and Supreme Court, though high constitutional office, is still in the realm of public employment, to which every person eligible ought to be given an opportunity to occupy, he being selected on a transparent, just, fair and non-arbitrary system. The Petitioner reiterates that he could be least deserving to be appointed when considered along with others of more meritorious than him, but the fact that since he satisfies all the basic eligibility criteria prescribed under Articles 124A, as amended, and
he is entitled to seek a declaration at the hands of this Hon’ble Court that an open selection be made by advertisement of vacancies or such other appropriate mechanism.
X. Judicial review versus democracy. Judicial review is only to prevent unjust laws to be enacted and the rights of the minorities, whatever colour they could be in terms of religion, race, views they hold, by a legislation which enjoys brutal majority and an of the executive which is tyrannical. It is no way intended to substitute the voice of the people by the voice of the high judiciary.
XI. Article 124A, as amended, is deficient only in one respect. The collegium contemplated thereunder is still fully loaded in favour of the high judiciary. Three out of the six members are Judges. In that sense it is failing to meet to be just and democratic. But the Parliament has in its wisdom enacted so and if there is a complaint, the forum is to generate public opinion and seek greater democracy. The Petitioner is currently not interested in that; he is happy with the Acts as enacted and the principal relief which he seeks in the instant petition is the immediate coming into force of the said Acts by appropriate notification and a
mandamus to that effect at the hands of this Hon’ble Court.”
10. When my recusal from the reconstituted Bench was sought on 21.4.2015, I had expressed unequivocally, that I had no desire to hear the matters. Yet, keeping in view the reasons expressed in writing by Mr. Fali S. Nariman, with reference to Anil R. Dave, J. I had disclosed in open Court, that I had already sent a communication to Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India, that I would not participate in the proceedings of the 1+4 collegium (of which I was, a member), till the disposal of these matters. Yet, the objection was pressed. It needs to be recorded that Anil R. Dave, J. was a member of the 1+2 collegium, as well as, the 1+4 collegium from the day the hearing in these matters commenced. Surprisingly, on that account, his recusal was never sought, and he had continued to hear the matters, when he was so placed (from 11.3.2015 to 7.4.2015). But for my being a member of the 1+4 collegium, a prayer had been made for my recusal.
11. It was, and still is, my personal view, which I do not wish to thrust either on Mr. Fali S. Nariman, or on Mr. Mathews J. Nedumpara, that Anil R. Dave, J. was amongst the most suited, to preside over the reconstituted Bench. As noticed above, he was a part of the 1+2 collegium, as also, the 1+4 collegium, under the ‘collegium system’; he would continue to discharge the same responsibilities, as an ex officio Member of the National Judicial Appointments Commission, in the
‘Commission system’, under the constitutional amendment enforced with effect from 13.4.2015. Therefore, irrespective of the system which would survive the adjudicatory process, Anil R. Dave, J. would participate in the selection, appointment and transfer of Judges of the higher judiciary. He would, therefore, not be affected by the determination of the present controversy, one way or the other.
12. The prayer for my recusal from the Bench was pressed by Mr. Fali S.Nariman, Senior Advocate, in writing, as under: “8. In the present case the Presiding Judge, (the Hon’ble Mr. Justice J.S. Khehar) by reason of judgments reported in the Second Judges case Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Assn. v. Union of India, (1993) 4 SCC 441, (reaffirmed by unanimously by a Bench of 9 Judges in the Third Judges case Special Reference No.1 of 1998, Re. (1998 7 SCC 739), is at present a member of the Collegium of five Hon’ble Judges which recommends judicial appointments to the Higher Judiciary, which will now come under the ambit of the National Judicial Appointments Commission set up under the aegis of the Constitution (Ninety-ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 read with National Judicial Appointments Commission Act No.40 of 2014 – if valid; but the constitutional validity of these enactments has been directly challenged in these proceedings. The position of the Presiding Judge on this Bench hearing these cases of constitutional challenge is not consistent with (and apparently conflicts with) his position as a member of the ‘collegium’; and is likely to be seen as such; always bearing in mind that if the Constitution Amendment and the statute pertaining thereto are held constitutionally valid and are upheld, the present presiding Judge would no longer be part of the Collegium – the Collegium it must be acknowledged exercises significant constitutional power.
9. In other words would it be inappropriate for the Hon’ble Presiding Judge to continue to sit on a Bench that adjudicates whether the Collegium system, (as it is in place for the past two decades and is stated (in the writ petitions) to be a part of the basic structure of the Constitution), should continue or not continue. The impression in peoples mind would be that it is inappropriate if not unfair if a sitting member of a Collegium sits in judgment over a scheme that seeks to replace it. This is apart from a consideration as to whether or not the judgment is (or is not) ultimately declared invalid or void: whether in the first instance or by Review or in a Curative Petition.”
The above prayer for my recusal was supported by Mr. Mathews J. Nedumpara, petitioner-in-person, in writing, as under:
“…..Hon’ble Shri Justice J.S. Khehar, the presiding Judge, a Judge whom the Petitioner holds in high esteem and respect, a Judge known for his uprightness, impartiality and erudition, the Petitioner is afraid to say, ought not to preside over the Constitution Bench deciding the constitutional validity or otherwise of the Constitution (Ninety-ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014 (“the said Acts”, for short). His Lordship will be a member of the collegium if this Hon’ble Court were to hold that the said
Acts are unconstitutional or to stay the operation of the said Acts, for, if the operation of the Acts is stayed, it is likely to be construed that the collegium system continues to be in force by virtue of such stay order. Though Hon’ble Shri Justice J.S. Khehar is not a member of the National Judicial Appointments Commission, for, if the NJAC is to be constituted today, it will be consisting of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India and two seniormost Judges of this Hon’ble Court. With the retirement of Hon’ble Shri H.L. Dattu, Chief Justice of India, His Lordship Hon’ble Shri Justice J.S. Khehar will become a member of the collegium. Therefore, an ordinary man, nay, an informed onlooker, an expression found acceptance at the hands of this Hon’ble Court on the question of judicial
recusal, will consider that justice would not have been done if a Bench of this Hon’ble Court headed by Hon’ble Shri Justice J.S. Khehar were to hear the above case. For a not so informed onlooker, the layman, the aam aadmi, this Hon’ble Court hearing the Writ Petitions challenging the aforesaid Acts is nothing but a fox being on the jury at a goose’s trial. The Petitioner believes that the Noble heart of his Lordships Justice Khehar could unwittingly be influenced by the nonconscious, subconscious, unconscious bias, his Lordships having been placed himself in a position of conflict of interest.
3. This Hon’ble Court itself hearing the case involving the power of appointment of Judges between the collegium and the Government, nay, the executive, will not evince any public confidence, except the designated senior lawyers who seem to be supporting the collegium system. The collegium system does not have any confidence in the ordinary lawyers who are often unfairly treated nor the ordinary litigants, the Daridra Narayanas, to borrow an expression from legendary Justice Krishna Iyer, who considered that the higher judiciary, and the Supreme Court in particular, is beyond the reach of the ordinary man. An ordinary lawyer finds it difficult to get even an entry into the Supreme
Court premises. This is the stark reality, though many prefer to pretend not to notice it. Therefore, the Petitioner with utmost respect, while literally worshipping the majesty of this Hon’ble Court, so too the Hon’ble presiding Judge of this Hon’ble Court, in all humility, with an apology, if the Petitioner has erred in making this plea, seeks recusal by Hon’ble Shri Justice J.S. Khehar from hearing the above case.”
13. As a Judge presiding over the reconstituted Bench, I found myself in an awkward predicament. I had no personal desire to participate in the hearing of these matters. I was a part of the Bench, because of my nomination to it, by Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India. My recusal from the Bench at the asking of Mr. Fali S. Nariman, whom I hold in great esteem, did not need a second thought. It is not as if the prayer made by Mr. Mathews J. Nedumpara, was inconsequential.
14. But then, this was the second occasion when proceedings in a matter would have been deferred, just because, Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India, in the first instance, had nominated Anil R. Dave, J. on the Bench, and thereafter, had substituted him by nominating me to the Bench. It was therefore felt, that reasons ought to be recorded, after hearing learned counsel, at least for the guidance of Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India, so that His Lordship may not make another nomination to the Bench, which may be similarly objected to. This, coupled with the submissions advanced by Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, Mr. Harish N. Salve and
Mr. K.K. Venugopal, that parameters should be laid down, led to a hearing, on the issue of recusal.
15. On the basis of the submissions advanced by the learned counsel, the Bench examined the prayer, whether I should remain on the reconstituted Bench, despite my being a member of the 1+4 collegium. The Bench, unanimously concluded, that there was no conflict of interest, and no other justifiable reason in law, for me to recuse from the hearing of these matters. On 22.4.2015, the Bench passed the following short order, which was pronounced by J. Chelameswar, J.:
“A preliminary objection, whether Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar should preside over this Bench, by virtue of his being the fourth senior most Judge of this Court, also happens to be a member of the collegium, was raised by the petitioners. Elaborate submissions were made by the learned counsel for the petitioners and the respondents. After hearing all the learned counsel, we are of the unanimous opinion that we do not see any reason in law requiring Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar to recuse himself from hearing the matter. Reasons will follow.”
16. After the order was pronounced, I disclosed to my colleagues on the Bench, that I was still undecided whether I should remain on the Bench, for I was toying with the idea of recusal, because a prayer to that effect, had been made in the face of the Court. My colleagues on the Bench, would have nothing of it. They were unequivocal in their protestation.
17. Despite the factual position noticed above, I wish to record, that it is not their persuasion or exhortation, which made me take a final call on the matter. The decision to remain a member of the reconstituted Bench was mine, and mine alone. The choice that I made, was not of the heart, but that of the head. The choice was made by posing two questions to myself. Firstly, whether a Judge hearing a matter should recuse, even though the prayer for recusal is found to be unjustified and unwarranted? Secondly, whether I would stand true to the oath of my office, if I recused from hearing the matters?
18. The reason that was pointed out against me, for seeking my recusal was, that I was a part of the 1+4 collegium. But that, should have been a disqualification for Anil R. Dave, J. as well. When he commenced hearing of the matters, and till 7.4.2015, he suffered the same alleged disqualification. Yet, the objection raised against me, was not raised against him. When confronted, Mr. Fali S. Nariman vociferously contested, that he had not sought the recusal of Anil R. Dave, J.. He
supported his assertion with proof. One wonders, why did he not seek the recusal of Anil R. Dave, J.? There is no doubt about the fact, that I have been a member of the 1+4 collegium, and it is likely that I would also shortly become a Member of the NJAC, if the present challenge raised by the petitioners was not to succeed. I would therefore remain a part of the selection procedure, irrespective of the process which prevails. That however is the position with reference to four of us (on the instant five-Judge Bench). Besides me, my colleagues on the Bench – J. Chelameswar, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph, JJ. would in due
course be a part of the collegium (if the writ-petitioners before this Court were to succeed), or alternatively, would be a part of the NJAC (if the writ-petitioners were to fail). In such eventuality, the averment of conflict of interest, ought to have been raised not only against me, but also against my three colleagues. But, that was not the manner in which the issue has been canvassed. In my considered view, the prayer for my recusal is not well founded. If I were to accede to the prayer for my recusal, I would be initiating a wrong practice, and laying down a wrong precedent. A Judge may recuse at his own, from a case entrusted to him by the Chief Justice. That would be a matter of his own choosing. But recusal at the asking of a litigating party, unless justified, must never to be acceded to. For that would give the impression, of the Judge had been scared out of the case, just by the force of the objection. A Judge before
he assumes his office, takes an oath to discharge his duties without fear or favour. He would breach his oath of office, if he accepts a prayer for recusal, unless justified. It is my duty to discharge my responsibility with absolute earnestness and sincerity. It is my duty to abide by my oath of office, to uphold the Constitution and the laws. My decision to continue to be a part of the Bench, flows from the oath which I took, at the time of my elevation to this Court.
(Jagdish Singh Khehar)
October 16, 2015.
THE REFERENCE ORDER
I. THE CHALLENGE:
1. The question which has arisen for consideration, in the present set of cases, pertains to the constitutional validity of the Constitution (Ninety-ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 (hereinafter referred to as, the Constitution (99th Amendment) Act), as also, that of the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014 (hereinafter referred to as, the NJAC Act).
2. During the course of hearing on the merits of the controversy, which pertains to the selection and appointment of Judges to the higher judiciary (i.e., Chief Justices and Judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court), and the transfer of Chief Justices and Judges of one High Court to another, it emerged that learned counsel for the respondents, were inter alia relying on the judgment rendered in S.P. Gupta v. Union of India1, (hereinafter referred to as, the First Judges case); whereas, the learned counsel for the petitioners were inter alia relying on the judgment in Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India2 (hereinafter referred to as, the Second Judges case), and the judgment in Re: Special Reference No.1 of 19983, (hereinafter referred to as, the Third Judges case).
3. Per se, the stance adopted by learned counsel for the respondents in placing reliance on the judgment in the First Judges case, was not open to them. This, for the simple reason, that the judgment rendered in the First Judges case, had been overruled by a larger Bench, in the Second Judges case. And furthermore, the exposition of law declared in the Second Judges case, was reaffirmed by the Third Judges case.
4. Visualizing, that the position adopted by the respondents, was not legally permissible, the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, and other learned counsel representing the respondents, adopted the only course open to them, namely, to seek reconsideration of the decisions rendered by this Court in the Second and Third Judges cases. For the above objective it was asserted, that various vital aspects of the matter, had not been brought to the notice of this Court, when the controversy raised in the Second Judges case was canvassed. It was contended that, had the controversy raised in the Second Judges case, been examined in the right perspective, this Court would not have recorded the conclusions expressed therein, by the majority. It was submitted, that till the respondents were not permitted to air their submissions, with reference to the unacceptability of the judgments rendered in the Second and Third Judges cases, it would not be in the fitness of matters, for this Court to dispose of the present controversy, by placing reliance on the said judgments.
5. Keeping in mind the importance and the sensitivity of the controversy being debated, as also, the vehemence with which learned counsel representing the respondents, pressed for a re-examination of the judgments rendered by this Court, in the Second and Third Judges cases, we permitted them, to detail the basis of their assertions.
6. Before embarking on the issue, namely, whether the judgments rendered by this Court in the Second and Third Judges cases, needed to be revisited, we propose first of all, to determine whether or not it would be justified for us, in the peculiar facts and circumstances of this case, keeping in view the technical parameters laid down by this Court, to undertake the task. In case, we conclude negatively, and hold that theprayer seeking a review of the two judgments was not justified, that would render a quietus to the matter. However, even if the proposition canvassed at the behest of the respondents is not accepted, we would still examine the submissions canvassed at their behest, as in a matter of such extreme importance and sensitivity, it may not be proper to reject a prayer for review, on a mere technicality. We shall then endeavour to determine, whether the submissions canvassed at the hands of the respondents, demonstrate clear and compelling reasons, for a review of the conclusions recorded in the Second and Third Judges cases. We shall also venture to examine, whether the respondents have been able to prima facie show, that the earlier judgments could be seen as manifestly incorrect. For such preliminary adjudication, we are satisfied, that the present bench-strength satisfies the postulated requirement, expressed in the proviso under Article 145(3).
7. Consequent upon the above examination, if the judgments rendered in the Second and Third Judges cases, are shown to prima facie require a re-look, we would then delve on the merits of the main controversy,without permitting the petitioners to place reliance on either of the aforesaid two judgments. 8. In case, we do not accept the submissions advanced at the hands of the petitioners on merits, with reference to the main controversy, that too in a sense would conclude the matter, as the earlier regime governed by the Second and Third Judges cases, would become a historical event, of the past, as the new scheme contemplated under the impugned Constitution (99th Amendment) Act, along with the NJAC Act, would replace the earlier dispensation. In the above eventuality, the question of re-examination of the Second and Third Judges cases would be only academic, and therefore uncalled for.
9. However, if we accept the submissions advanced at the hands of the learned counsel for the petitioners, resulting in the revival of the earlier process, and simultaneously conclude in favour of the respondents, that the Second and Third Judges cases need a re-look, we would be obliged to refer this matter to a nine-Judge Bench (or even, to a larger Bench), for re-examining the judgments rendered in the Second and Third Judges cases.
II. THE BACKGROUND TO THE CHALLENGE:
10. Judges to the Supreme Court of India and High Courts of States, are appointed under Articles 124 and 217 respectively. Additional Judges and acting Judges for High Courts are appointed under Articles 224 and 224A. The transfer of High Court Judges and Chief Justices, of one High Court to another, is made under Article 222. For the controversy in hand, it is essential to extract the original Articles 124 and 217, hereunder:
“124. Establishment and constitution of Supreme Court. (1) There shall be a Supreme Court of India consisting of a Chief Justice of India and, until Parliament by law prescribes a larger number, of not more than seven other Judges.
(2) Every Judge of the Supreme Court shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal after consultation with such of the Judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Courts in the States as the President may deem necessary for the purpose and shall hold office until he attains the age of sixty-five years:
Provided that in the case of appointment of a Judge other than the Chief Justice, the Chief Justice of India shall always be consulted: Provided further that—
(a) a Judge may, by writing under his hand addressed to the President, resign his office;
(b) a Judge may be removed from his office in the manner provided in clause (4).
(2A) The age of a Judge of the Supreme Court shall be determined by such authority and in such manner as Parliament may by law provide.
(3) A person shall not be qualified for appointment as a Judge of the Supreme Court unless he is a citizen of India and—
(a) has been for at least five years a Judge of a High Court or of two or more such Courts in succession; or
(b) has been for at least ten years an advocate of a High Court or of two or more such courts in succession; or
(c) is, in the opinion of the President, a distinguished jurist.
Explanation I.—In this clause "High Court” means a High Court which exercises, or which at any time before the commencement of this Constitution exercised, jurisdiction in any part of the territory of India.
Explanation II.—In computing for the purpose of this clause the period during which a person has been an advocate, any period during which a person has held judicial office not inferior to that of a district Judge after he became an advocate shall be included.
(4) A Judge of the Supreme Court shall not be removed from his office except by an order of the President passed after an address by each House of Parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the House present and voting has been presented to the President in the same session for such removal on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.
(5) Parliament may by law regulate the procedure for the presentation of an address and for the investigation and proof of the misbehaviour or incapacity of a Judge under clause (4).
(6) Every person appointed to be a Judge of the Supreme Court shall, before he enters upon his office, make and subscribe before the President, or some person appointed in that behalf by him, an oath or affirmation according to the form set out for the purpose in the Third Schedule.
(7) No person who has held office as a Judge of the Supreme Court shall plead or act in any court or before any authority within the territory of India.”
“217. Appointment and conditions of the office of a Judge of a High Court.— (1) Every Judge of a High Court shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal after consultation with the Chief Justice of India, the Governor of the State, and, in the case of appointment of a Judge other than the Chief Justice, the Chief Justice of the High Court, and shall hold office, in the case of an additional or acting Judge, as provided in article 224, and in any other case, until he attains the age of sixty-two years:
(a) a Judge may, by writing under his hand addressed to the President, resign his office;
(b) a Judge may be removed from his office by the President in the manner provided in clause (4) of article 124 for the removal of a Judge of the Supreme Court;
(c) the office of a Judge shall be vacated by his being appointed by the President to be a Judge of the Supreme Court or by his being transferred by the President to any other High Court within the territory of India.
(2) A person shall not be qualified for appointment as a Judge of a High Court unless he is a citizen of India and—
(a) has for at least ten years held a judicial office in the territory of India; or
(b) has for at least ten years been an advocate of a High Court or of two or more such courts in succession;
Explanation.— For the purposes of this clause —
(a) in computing the period during which a person has held judicial office in the territory of India, there shall be included any period, after he has held any judicial office, during which the person has been an advocate of a High Court or has held the office of a member of a tribunal or any post, under the Union or a State, requiring special knowledge of law;
(aa) in computing the period during which a person has been an advocate of a High Court, there shall be included any period during which the person has held judicial office or the office of a member of a tribunal or any post, under the Union or a State, requiring special knowledge of law after he became an advocate;
(b) in computing the period during which a person has held judicial office in the territory of India or been an advocate of High Court, there shall be included any period before the commencement of this Constitution during which he has held judicial office in any area which was comprised before the fifteenth day of August, 1947, within India as defined by the Government of India Act, 1935, or has been an advocate of any High Court in any such area, as the case may be.
(3) If any question arises as to the age of a Judge of a High Court, the question shall be decided by the President after consultation with the Chief Justice of India and the decision of the President shall be final.”
11. The true effect and intent of the provisions of the Constitution, and all other legislative enactments made by the Parliament, and the State legislatures, are understood in the manner they are interpreted and declared by the Supreme Court, under Article 141. The manner in which Articles 124 and 217 were interpreted by this Court, emerges principally from three-Constitution Bench judgments of this Court, which are now under pointed consideration. The first judgment was rendered, by a seven-Judge Bench, by a majority of 4:3, in the First Judges case on 30.12.1981. The correctness of the First Judges case was doubted by a three-Judge Bench in Subhash Sharma v. Union of India4, which opined that the majority view, in the First Judges case, should be considered by
a larger Bench. The Chief Justice of India constituted a nine-Judge Bench, to examine two questions. Firstly, whether the opinion of the Chief Justice of India in regard to the appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court and to the High Courts, as well as, transfer of Chief Justices and Judges of High Courts, was entitled to primacy? And secondly, whether the fixation of the judge-strength in High Courts, was justiciable? By a majority of 7:2, a nine-Judge Bench of this Court, in the Second Judges case, overruled the judgment in the First Judges case. The instant judgment was rendered on 6.10.1993. Consequent upon
doubts having arisen with the Union of India, about the interpretation of the Second Judges case, the President of India, in exercise of his power under Article 143, referred nine questions to the Supreme Court, for its opinion. A nine-Judge Bench answered the reference unanimously, on 28.10.1998.
12. After the judgment of this Court in the Second Judges case was rendered in 1993, and the advisory opinion of this Court was tendered to the President of India in 1998, the term “consultation” in Articles 124(2) and 217(1), relating to appointment (as well as, transfer) of Judges of the higher judiciary, commenced to be interpreted as vesting primacy in the matter, with the judiciary. This according to the respondents, had resulted in the term “consultation” being understood as “concurrence” (in matters governed by Articles 124, 217 and 222). The Union of India, then framed a Memorandum of Procedure on 30.6.1999, for the appointment of Judges and Chief Justices to the High Courts and the
Supreme Court, in consonance with the above two judgments. And appointments came to be made thereafter, in consonance with the Memorandum of Procedure.
13. As per the position expressed before us, a feeling came to be entertained, that a Commission for selection and appointment, as also for transfer, of Judges of the higher judiciary should be constituted, which would replace the prevailing procedure, for appointment of Judges and Chief Justices of the High Courts and the Supreme Court of India, contemplated under Articles 124(2) and 217(1). It was felt, that the proposed Commission should be broad based. In that, the Commission should comprise of members of the judiciary, the executive and eminent/important persons from public life. In the above manner, it was proposed to introduce transparency in the selection process.
14. To achieve the purported objective, Articles 124 and 217 were inter alia amended, and Articles 124A, 124B and 124C were inserted in the Constitution, through the Constitution (99th Amendment) Act, by following the procedure contemplated under Article 368(2), more particularly, the proviso thereunder. The amendment, received the assent of the President on 31.12.2014. It was however given effect to, with effect from 13.4.2015 (consequent upon its notification in the Gazette of India (Extraordinary) Part II, Section 1). Simultaneously therewith, the Parliament enacted the NJAC Act, which also received the assent of the President on 31.12.2014. The same was also brought into force, with effect from 13.4.2015 (by its notification in the Gazette of India (Extraordinary) Part II, Section 1). The above constitutional amendment and the legislative enactment, are subject matter of challenge through a bunch of petitions, which are collectively being heard by us. In order to effectively understand the true purport of the challenge raised by the petitioners, and the nuances of the legal and constitutional issues involved, it is imperative to have a bird’s eye view of the First Judges case, upon which reliance has been placed by the learned counsel for the respondents, in their attempt to seek a review of the Second and Third
The First Judges case - 1981 Supp SCC 87.
15. The Union Law Minister addressed a letter dated 18.3.1981 to the Governor of Punjab and to Chief Ministers of all other States. The addressees were inter alia informed, that “…one third of the Judges of High Court, should as far as possible be from outside the State in which the High Court is situated…”. Through the above letter, the addressees were requested to “…(a) obtain from all additional Judges working in the High Courts… their consent to be appointed as permanent Judges in any other High Court in the country…” The above noted letter required, that the concerned appointees “…be required to name three High Courts, in order of preference, to which they would prefer to be appointed as permanent Judges; and (b) obtain from persons who have already been or may in the future be proposed by you for initial appointment their consent to be appointed to any other High Court in the country along with a similar preference for three High Courts…”. The Union Law Minister, in the above letter clarified, that furnishing of their consent or indication of their preference, would not imply any commitment, at the behest of the Government, to accommodate them in accordance with their preferences. In response, quite a few additional Judges, gave their consent to be appointed outside their parent State.
(i) Iqbal Chagla (and the other petitioners) felt, that the letter dated 18.3.1981 was a direct attack on the “independence of the judiciary”, and an uninhibited assault on a vital/basic feature of the Constitution. A series of Advocates’ Associations in Bombay passed resolutions, condemning the letter dated 18.3.1981, as being subversive of “judicial independence”. They demanded the withdrawal of the letter. Since that was not done, a writ petition was filed by the above Associations in the Bombay High Court, challenging the letter dated 18.3.1981. An interim order was passed by the High Court, restraining the Union Law Minister and the Government from implementing the letter dated 18.3.1981. A Letters Patent Appeal preferred against the above interim order, came to be dismissed by a Division Bench of the High Court. The above interim order, was assailed before this Court. While the matter was pending before this Court, the Union Law Minister and the Government of India, filed a transfer petition under Article 139A. The transfer petition was allowed, and the writ petition filed in the Bombay High Court, was transferred to the Supreme Court.
(ii) A second petition was filed by V.M. Tarkunde, in the High Court of Delhi. It raised a challenge to the constitutional validity of the letter dated 18.3.1981. One additional ground was raised with reference to the three additional Judges of the Delhi High Court, namely, O.N. Vohra, S.N. Kumar and S.B. Wad, JJ., whose term was expiring on 6.3.1981. Rather than being appointed for a further term of two years, their appointment was extended for three months, from 7.3.1981. These short term appointments were assailed, as being unjustified under Article 224, besides being subversive of the “independence of the judiciary”. This writ
petition was also transferred for hearing to the Supreme Court. So far as the circular letter dated 18.3.1981 is concerned, the Supreme Court, on an oral prayer made by the petitioner, directed that any additional Judge who did not wish to respond to the circular letter may not do so, and that, he would neither be refused extension nor permanent appointment, on the ground that he had not sent a reply to the letter dated 18.3.1981. Thereafter, the appointment of S.B. Wad, J., was continued, as an additional Judge for a period of one year from 7.6.1981, but O.N. Vohra and S.N. Kumar, JJ., were not continued beyond 7.6.1981.
(iii & iv). A third writ petition, was filed by J.L. Kalra and others, who were practicing Advocates, in the Delhi High Court. And a fourth writ petition was filed by S.P. Gupta, a practicing Advocate, of the Allahabad High Court. The third and fourth writ petitions were for substantially the same reliefs, as the earlier two petitions.
(v) A fifth writ petition, was filed by Lily Thomas. She challenged a transfer order dated 19.1.1981, whereby the Chief Justice of the High Court of Madras was transferred as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Kerala. The above order had been passed by the President, under Article 222(1), after consultation with the Chief Justice of India. Likewise, the transfer of the Chief Justice of the High Court of Patna to the Madras High Court was challenged by asserting, that the power of transfer under Article 222(1) was limited to Judges of the High Courts, and did not extend to Chief Justices. Alternatively, it was contended, that transfers could only be made with the consent of the concerned Judge, and only in public interest, and after full and effective consultation with the Chief Justice of India.
(vi & vii) A sixth writ petition was filed by A. Rajappa, principally challenging the order dated 19.1.1981, whereby some Chief Justices had been transferred. One additional submission was raised in this petition, namely, that the transfer of the Chief Justices had been made without the prior consultation of the Governors of the concerned States, and further, that the said transfers were not in public interest, and therefore, violated the procedural requirements contained in Article 217(1). The seventh writ petition was filed by P. Subramanian, on the same grounds, as the petition filed by A. Rajappa.
(viii) An eighth writ petition was filed by D.N. Pandey and Thakur Ramapati Sinha, practicing Advocates, of the Patna High Court. In this petition, Justice K.B.N. Singh, the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court was impleaded as respondent no.3. On a prayer made by respondent no.3, he was transposed as petitioner no.3. As petitioner no.3, Justice K.B.N. Singh filed a detailed affidavit asserting, that his transfer had been made as a matter of punishment, and further, that it had been made on irrelevant and on insufficient grounds, and not in public interest. And further that, it was not preceded by a full and effective consultation with the Chief Justice of India. It is therefore apparent, that the above mentioned petitions related to two different sets of cases. Firstly, the issue pertaining to the initial appointment of Judges, and the extension of the term of appointment of additional Judges, on the expiry of their original term. And secondly, the transfer of Judges and Chief Justices from one High Court to another.
16. The opinions recorded in the First Judges case, insofar as they are relevant to the present controversy, are being summarized herein: P.N. Bhagwati, J. (as he then was):
(i) On the subject of independence of the judiciary, it was opined, that “…The concept of independence of judiciary is a noble concept which inspires the constitutional scheme and constitutes the foundation on which rests the edifice of our democratic polity. If there is one principle which runs through the entire fabric of the entire Constitution, it is the principle of the rule of law and under the Constitution, it is the judiciary which is entrusted with the task of keeping every organ of the State within the limits of the law and thereby making the rule of law meaningful and effective…The judiciary stands between the citizen and the State as a bulwark against executive excesses and misuse or abuse of power by the executive, and therefore, it is absolutely essential that the judiciary must be free from executive pressure or influence and this has been secured by the Constitution makers by making elaborate provisions in the Constitution. “…It was felt, that the concept of “independence of the judiciary” was not limited only to the independence from executive pressure or influence, but it was a much wider concept, which took within its sweep, independence from many other pressures and prejudices. It had many dimensions, namely, fearlessness of other power centers, economic or political, and freedom from prejudices acquired and nourished by the class to which the Judges belong. It was held, that the principle of “independence of the judiciary” had to be kept in mind, while interpreting the provisions of the Constitution (paragraph 27).
(ii). On the subject of appointment of High Court Judges, it was opined, that just like Supreme Court Judges, who are appointed under Article 124 by the resident (which in effect and substance meant the Central Government), likewise, the power of appointment of High Court Judges under Article 217, was to be exercised by the Central Government. Such power, it was held, was exercisable only “…after consultation with the Chief Justice of India, the Governor of the State, and, the Chief Justice of the High Court…” It was concluded, that it was clear on a plain reading of the above two Articles, that the Chief Justice of India, the Chief Justice of the High Court, and such other Judges of the High Court and of the Supreme Court (as the Central Government may deem necessary to consult), were constitutional functionaries, having a consultative role, and the power of appointments rested solely and exclusively in the decision of the Central Government. It was pointed out, that the above power was not an unfettered power, in the sense, that the Central Government could not act arbitrarily, without consulting the constitutional functionaries specified in the two Articles. The Central Government was to act, only after consulting the constitutional functionaries, and that, the consultation had to be full and effective (paragraph 29).
(iii). On the question of the meaning of the term “consultation” expressed in Article 124(2) and Article 217(1), it was held, that this question was no longer res integra, as the issue stood concluded by the decision of the Supreme Court in Union of India v. Sankalchand Himatlal Sheth5, wherein its meaning was determined with reference to Article 222(1). But, since it was the common ground between the parties, that the term “consultation” used in Article 222(1) had the same meaning, which it had in Articles 124(2) and 217(1), it was held that, “…therefore, it follows that the President must communicate to the Chief Justice all the material he has and the course he proposes. The Chief Justice, in turn, must collect necessary information through responsible channels or directly, acquaint himself with the requisite data, deliberate on the information he possesses and proceed in the interests of the administration of justice to give the President such counsel of action as he thinks will further the public interest, especially the cause of the justice system…" It was further concluded, that the above observation in the Sankalchand Himatlal Sheth case5 would apply with equal force to determine the scope and meaning of the term “consultation” within the meaning of Articles 124(2) and 217(1). Each of the constitutional functionaries, required to be consulted under these two Articles, must have for his consideration, full and identical facts bearing upon appointment or non-appointment of the person concerned, and the opinion of each of them taken on identical material, must be considered by the Central Government, before it takes a decision, whether or not to appoint the person concerned as a Judge. It was open to the Central Government to take its own decision, in regard to the appointment or non-appointment of a Judge to a High Court or the Supreme Court, after taking into account and giving due weight to, the opinions expressed. It was also observed, that the only ground on which such a decision could be assailed was, that the action was based on mala fides or irrelevant considerations. In case of a difference of opinion amongst the constitutional functionaries, who were to be consulted, it was felt, that it was for the Central Government to decide, whose opinion should be accepted. The contention raised on behalf of the petitioners, that in the consultative process, primacy should be that of the Chief Justice of India, since he was the head of the Indian judiciary and pater familias of the judicial fraternity, was rejected for the reason, that each of the constitutional functionaries was entitled to equal weightage. With reference to appointment of Judges of the Supreme Court, it was held, that the Chief Justice of India was required to be consulted, but the Central Government was not bound to act in accordance with the opinion of the Chief Justice of India, even though, his opinion was entitled to great weight. It was therefore held, that the ultimate power of appointment, rested with the Central Government (paragraph 30).
(iv). On the issue of appointment of Judges of the Supreme Court, it was concluded, that consultation with the Chief Justice of India was a mandatory requirement. But while making an appointment, consultation could extend to such other Judges of the Supreme Court, and of the High Courts, as the Central Government may deem necessary. In response to the submission, where only the Chief Justice of India was consulted (i.e., when consultation did not extend to other Judges of the Supreme Court, or of the High Courts), whether the opinion tendered by the Chief Justice of India should be treated as binding, it was opined, that there was bound to be consultation, with one or more of the Judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Courts, before exercising the power of appointment conferred under Article 124(2). It was felt, that consultation with the Chief Justice of India alone, with reference to the appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court, was not a very satisfactory mode of appointment, because wisdom and experience demanded, that no power should rest in a single individual howsoever high and great he may be, and howsoever honest and well-meaning. It was suggested, that it would be more appropriate if a collegium would make the recommendations to the President, with regard to appointments to the higher judiciary, and the recommending authority should be more broad based. If the collegium was comprised of persons who had knowledge of persons, who may be fit for appointment to the Bench, and possessed the qualities required for such appointment, it would go a long way towards securing the right kind of Judges, who would be truly independent (paragraph 31).
(v) It was held, that the appointment of an additional Judge, must be made by following the procedure postulated in Article 217(1). Accordingly, when the term of an additional Judge expired, and he ceased to be a Judge, his reappointment could only be made by once again adopting the procedure set out in Article 217(1). The contention, that an additional Judge must automatically and without any further consideration be appointed as an additional Judge for a further term, or, as a permanent Judge, was rejected (paragraphs 38 to 44).
(vi) On the question of validity of the letter of the Union Law Minister dated 18.3.1981, it was opined, that the same did not violate any legal or constitutional provision. It was felt, that the advance consent sought to be obtained through the letter dated 18.3.1981, from additional Judges or Judges prior to their permanent appointment, would have no meaning, so far as the Chief Justice of India was concerned, because irrespective of the fact, whether the additional Judge had given his consent or not, the Chief Justice of India would have to consider, whether it would be in public interest to allow the additional Judge to be appointed as a permanent Judge in another High Court (paragraph 54).
(vii) After having determined the merits of the individual claim raised by S.N. Kumar, J., (who was discontinued by the Central Government, while he was holding the position of additional Judge), it was concluded, that it would be proper if the Union of India could find a way, to place the letter dated 7.5.1981 addressed by the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court to the Law Minister, before the Chief Justice of India, and elicit his opinion with reference to that letter. And thereupon consider, whether S.N. Kumar, J., should be reappointed as additional Judge.
(viii) With reference to K.B.N. Singh, CJ., it was opined that there was a clear abdication by the Central Government of its constitutional functions, and therefore, his transfer from the Patna High Court to the Madras High Court was held as unconstitutional and void.
A.C. Gupta, J.:
(i). On the subject of the “independence of the judiciary”, it was opined, that the same did not mean freedom of Judges to act arbitrarily. It only meant, that Judges must be free, while discharging their judicial functions. In order to maintain “independence of the judiciary”, it was felt, that Judges had to be protected against interference, direct or indirect. It was concluded, that the constitutional provisions should not be construed in a manner, that would tend to undermine the concept of “independence of the judiciary” (paragraph 119).
(ii) On the question, whether, on the expiry of the term of office of an additional Judge of a High Court, it was permissible to drop him by not giving him another term, though the volume of work, pending in the High Court, required the services of another Judge? It was opined, that the tenure of an additional Judge, was only dependent on the arrears of work, or the temporary increase in the business of a High Court. And since an additional Judge was not on probation, his performance could not be considered to determine, whether he was fit for appointment as a permanent Judge. Therefore, it was concluded, that if the volume of work pending in the High Court justified the appointment of an additional Judge, there could be no reason, why the concerned additional Judge should not be appointed for another term. The submission that the two years’ period mentioned in Article 224, depicted the upper limit of the tenure, and that the President was competent to appoint an additional Judge, for any shorter period, was rejected. Since the fitness of a Judge, had been considered at the time of his initial appointment, therefore, while determining whether he should be reappointed, under Article 217(1), it was opined, that the scope of inquiry was limited, to whether the volume of work pending in the High Court, necessitated his continuation.
(iii). Referring to the opinion expressed by the Chief Justice of the High Court, in connection with S.N. Kumar, J., it was opined, that when allegations were levelled against a Judge with respect to the discharge of his duties, the only reasonable course open, which would not undermine the “independence of the judiciary” was, to proceed with an inquiry into the allegations and remove the Judge, if the allegations were found to be true (in accordance with the procedure laid down under Article 124(4) and (5) read with Article 218). It was felt that, dropping an additional Judge, at the end of his initial term of office, on the ground that there were allegations against him, without properly ascertaining the truth of the allegations, was destructive of the “independence of the judiciary” (paragraph 123).
(iv). With reference to the non-continuation of S.N. Kumar, J., an additional Judge of the Delhi High Court, it was observed, that the letter of the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court dated 7.5.1981, addressed to the Law Minister, was not disclosed to the Chief Justice of India. As the relevant material was withheld from the Chief Justice of India, it was concluded, that there was no full and effective “consultation”, as contemplated by Article 217(1). And therefore, the decision not to extend the term of office of S.N. Kumar, J., as additional Judge of the Delhi High Court, though the volume of pending work in the High Court required the services of an additional Judge, was invalid.
(v). On the question, whether the opinion of the Chief Justice of India would have primacy, in case of a difference of opinion between the Chief Justice of a High Court and the Chief Justice of India, the view expressed was, that the President should accept the opinion of the Chief Justice of India, unless such opinion suffered from any obvious infirmity. And that, the President could not act as an umpire, and choose between the two opinions (paragraph 134).
(vi). Referring to the judgment in the Sankalchand Himatlal Sheth case5, wherein it was concluded, that mass transfers were not contemplated under Article 222(1), it was opined, that the President could transfer a Judge from one High Court to another, only after consultation with the Chief Justice of India. And that, the Chief Justice of India must consider in each case, whether the proposed transfer was in public interest (paragraph 138).
(vii). With reference to the transfer of K.B.N. Singh, CJ., from the Patna High Court to the Madras High Court, it was opined, that even if the above transfer had been made for administrative reasons, and in public interest, it was likely to cause some injury to the transferee, and it would only be fair to consider the possibility of transferring him, where he would face least difficulties, namely, where the language difficulty would not be acute.
S. Murtaza Fazal Ali, J.:
(i) On the issue, whether the transfer of a High Court Judge under Article 222 required the consent of the Judge proposed to be transferred, it was opined, that a non-consensual transfer, would not amount to punishment, nor would it involve any stigma. It was accordingly concluded, that a transfer made after complying with Article 222, would not mar or erode the “independence of the judiciary” (paragraph 345).
(ii). With reference to appointing Chief Justices of High Courts from outside the State, and for having 1/3rd Judges in every High Court from outside the State, it was expressed, that Article 222 conferred an express power with the President, to transfer a Judge (which includes, Chief Justice) from one State to another. In determining as to how this power had to be exercised, it was felt, that the President undoubtedly possessed an implied power to lay down the norms, the principles, the conditions and the circumstances, under which the said power was to be exercised. A declaration by the President regarding the nature and terms of the policy (which virtually meant a declaration by the Council of Ministers) was quite sufficient, and absolutely legal and constitutional (paragraph 410).
(iii). On the subject of validity of the letter of the Union Law Minister dated 18.3.1981, it was held, that the same did not in any way tarnish the image of Judges, or mar the “independence of the judiciary” (paragraph 433).
(iv). On the question of appointment of additional Judges, and the interpretation of Article 217, the opinion expressed by P.N. Bhagwati and E.S. Venkataramiah, JJ. were adopted (paragraph 434).
(v). Insofar as the interpretation of Article 224 was concerned, the opinion of P.N. Bhagwati and D.A. Desai, JJ. were accepted, (paragraph 537). And accordingly, their conclusion about the continuation of S.N. Kumar, J., as an additional Judge, after the expiry of his term of appointment, was endorsed.
(vi). On analyzing the decision rendered in the Sankalchand Himatlal Sheth case5, inter alia, the following necessary concomitants of an effective consultation between the President and the Chief Justice of India were drawn. That the consultation, must be full and effective, and must precede the actual transfer of the Judge. If consultation with the Chief Justice of India had not taken place, before transferring a Judge, it was held, that the transfer would be unconstitutional. All relevant data and necessary facts, must be provided to the Chief Justice of India, so that, he could arrive at a proper conclusion. Only after the above process was fully complied with, the consultation would be considered full and effective. It was felt, that the Chief Justice of India owed a duty, both to the President and to the Judge proposed to be transferred, to consider every relevant fact, before tendering his opinion to the President. Before giving his opinion the Chief Justice of India, could informally ascertain from the Judge, if there was any personal difficulty, or any humanitarian ground, on which his transfer should not be made. And only after having done so, the Chief Justice of India, could forward his opinion to the resident. Applying the above facets of the consultation process, with respect to the validity of the order dated 19.1.1981, by which K.B.N. Singh, CJ., was transferred, it was held, that the consultation processcontemplated under Article 222, had been breached, rendering the order passed by the President invalid (paragraph 589).
V.D. Tulzapurkar, J.:
(i). Insofar as the question of “independence of the judiciary” is concerned, it was asserted that all the Judges, who had expressed their opinions in the matter, had emphasized, that the framers of the Constitution had taken the utmost pains, to secure the “independence of the Judges” of the higher judiciary. To support the above contention, several provisions of the Constitution were referred to. It was also pointed out, that the Attorney General representing the Union of India, had not dispute the above proposition (paragraph 639).
(ii). With reference to additional Judges recruited under Article 224(1), from the fraternity of practicing Advocates, it was pointed out, that an undertaking was taken from them at the time of their initial appointment, that if and when a permanent judgeship of that Court was offered to them, they would not decline the same. And additionally, the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court would require them to furnish a further undertaking, that if they decline to accept such permanent judgeship (though offered), or if they resigned from the office of the additional judgeship, they would not practice before the Bombay High Court, or any court or tribunal subordinate to it. Based on the aforesaid undertakings, the contention advanced was, that a legitimate expectancy, and an enforceable right to continue in office, came to be conferred on the additional Judges recruited from the Bar. It was felt, that it was impossible to construe Article 224(1), as conferring upon the appointing authority, any absolute power or discretion in the matter of appointment of additional Judges to a High Court (paragraphs 622 and 624).
(iii) All submissions made on behalf of the respondents, that granting extension to an additional Judge, or making him a permanent Judge was akin to a fresh appointment, were rejected. It was concluded, that extension to an additional Judge, or making him permanent, did not require re-determination of his suitability under Article 217(1) (paragraph 628).
(iv). While dealing with the question of continuation of an additional Judge, in situations where there were facts disclosing suspected misbehaviour and/or reported lack of integrity, the view expressed was, that while considering the question of continuation of a sitting additional Judge, on the expiry of his initial term, the test of suitability contemplated within the consultative process under Article 217(1) should not be evoked — at least till a proper mechanism, having a legal sanction, was provided for holding an inquiry, against the Judge concerned, with reference to any suspected misbehavior and/or lack of integrity (paragraph 628).
(v) On the scope of consideration, for continuation as a sitting additional Judge (on the expiry of a Judge’s initial term), it was opined, that the consultative process should be confined only to see, whether the preconditions mentioned in Article 224(1) existed or not, or whether, pendency of work justified continuation or not. It was held, that the test of suitability contemplated within the consultative process under Article
217(1), could not and should not, be resorted to (paragraph 629).
(vi). On the question of primacy of the Chief Justice of India, with reference to Article 217(1), the view expressed was, that the scheme envisaged therein, by implication and intent, clearly gave primacy to the advice tendered by the Chief Justice of India. It was however sought to be clarified, that giving primacy to the advice of the Chief Justice of India, in the matter of appointment of Judges of the High Court, should not be construed as a power to veto any proposal. And that, if the advice of the Chief Justice of India, had proceeded on extraneous or non germane considerations, the same would be subject to judicial review, just as the President’s final decision, if he were to disregard the advice of the Chief Justice of India, but for justified and cogent reasons. Interpreting Article 217(1) in the above manner, it was felt, would go a long way in preserving the “independence of the judiciary” (paragraph 632).
(vii) With regard to the scope of ‘consultation’, contemplated under Article 222(1), the conclusion(s) drawn by the majority view, in the Sankalchand Himatlal Sheth case5, were endorsed.
(viii). Insofar as, the issue of taking the consent of the concerned Judge, prior to his transfer is concerned, based on the decision rendered in the Sankalchand Himatlal Sheth case5, it was felt, that transfers could be made without obtaining the consent of the concerned Judge. And accordingly it was held, that non-consensual transfers, were within the purview of Article 222(1) (paragraphs 645 and 646).
(ix) With reference to the letter written by the Union Law Minister dated 18.3.1981, it was asserted, that even a policy transfer, without fixing the requisite mechanism or modality of procedure, would not ensure complete insulation against executive interference. Conversely it was felt, that a selective transfer in an appropriate case, for strictly objective reasons, and in public interest, could be non-punitive. It was therefore concluded, that each case of transfer, whether based on policy, or for individual reasons, would have to be judged on the facts and circumstances of its own, for deciding, whether it was punitive (paragraph 649).
(x) It was concluded, that by requiring a sitting additional Judge, to give his consent for being appointed to another High Court, virtually amounted to seeking his consent for his transfer from his own High Court to another High Court, falling within the ambit of Article 222(1). Referring to the judgment rendered in the Sankalchand Himatlal Sheth case5, it was felt, that the circular letter dated 18.3.1981 was an attempt to circumvent the safeguards and the stringent conditions expressed in the above judgment (paragraph 652). And further, that the circular letter clearly exuded an odour of executive dominance and arrogance, intended to have coercive effects on the minds of sitting additional Judges, by implying a threat to them, that if they did not furnish their consent to be shifted elsewhere, they would neither be continued nor made permanent
The above letter, was held to be amounting to, executive interference with the “independence of the judiciary”, and thus illegal, unconstitutional and void. Any consent obtained thereunder, was also held to be void (paragraph 654).
(xi) It was also concluded that, the advice of the Chief Justice of India, would be robbed of its real efficacy, in the face of such pre-obtained consent, and it would have to be regarded as having been issued malafide and for a collateral purpose, namely, to bypass Article 222(1) and to confront the Chief Justice of India, with a fait accompli, and as such, the same was liable to be declared as illegal and unconstitutional (paragraph 655).
(xii) The above circular letter dated 18.3.1981, was also held to be violative of Article 14, since invidious discrimination was writ large on the face of the circular letter. For this additional reason, the letter of the Union Law Minister dated 18.3.1981, it was felt, was liable to be struck down (paragraphs 659 and 660).
(xiii) On the subject of non-continuation of S.N. Kumar, J., it was held, that it was abundantly clear from the correspondence and notings, that further details and concrete facts and materials relating to his integrity, though specifically asked for by the Chief Justice of India, were not furnished, and the letter dated 7.5.1981, which contained such details and concrete facts and materials, were kept away from him, leading to the inference, that facts which were taken into consideration by the Union Law Minister and the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court (which provided the basis to the appointing authority, not to extend the appointment of S.N. Kumar, J.), were not placed before the Chief Justice of India, and therefore, there was neither full nor effective consultation, between the President and the Chief Justice of India, as required by Article 217(1). It was accordingly concluded, that the decision against S.N. Kumar, J., stood vitiated by legal mala fides, and as such, was liable to be held void and non est, and his case had to be sent back to the President, for reconsideration and passing appropriate orders, after the requisite consultation was undertaken afresh (paragraphs 664 and 666 to 668).
(xiv) With respect to the validity of the transfer of K.B.N. Singh, CJ., it was felt, that in the absence of any connivance or complicity, since no unfair play was involved in the procedure followed by the Chief Justice of India, it was liable to be concluded, that the impugned transfer had been made in public interest, and not by way of punishment. The above transfer was accordingly held to be valid (paragraph 680).
D.A. Desai, J.:
(i) After noticing, that the President under Article 74, acts on the advice of the Council of Ministers, and that, while acting under Article 217(3), the President performs functions of grave importance. It was felt, that it could not be said that while exercising the power of appointment of Judges to the higher judiciary, the President was performing either judicial or quasi judicial functions. The function of appointment of Judges was declared as an executive function, and as such, it was held, that Article 74 would come into operation. And therefore concluded, that the President would have to act, on the advice of the Council of Ministers, in the matter of appointment of Judges under Article 217 (paragraph 715). And therefore it came to be held, that the ultimate power of appointment under Article 217, “unquestionably” rested with the President.
(ii) It was pointed out, that before exercising the power of appointment of a Judge (other than the Chief Justice of a High Court), the President was under a constitutional obligation, to consult the three constitutional functionaries, mentioned in Article 217 (paragraphs 718 and 719). And that the aforementioned three constitutional functionaries were at par with one another. They were coordinate authorities, without any relative hierarchy, and as such, the opinion of the Chief Justice of India could not be given primacy on the issue of appointment of Judges of High Courts (paragraphs 724, 726 and 728).
(iii) It was also concluded, that on the expiry of the original term of appointment of an additional Judge under Article 224, the continuation of the concerned Judge, would envisage the re-adoption of the procedure contained in Article 217 (paragraphs 736 and 745).
(iv) It was felt, that there was no gainsaying, that a practice which had been followed for over 25 years, namely, that an additional Judge was always considered for a fresh tenure, if there was no permanent vacancy, and if there was such a vacancy, he was considered for appointment as a permanent Judge. It was held, that the contention of the Attorney General, that such additional Judge had no priority, preference, weightage or right to be considered, and that, he was on par with any other person, who could be brought from the market, would amount to disregarding the constitutional scheme, and must be rejected (paragraph 759). It was held, that when a Judge was appointed for a term of two years, as an additional Judge, it was sufficient to contemplate, that his appointment was not as a permanent Judge. And therefore, if a permanent vacancy arose, the additional Judge could not enforce his appointment against the permanent vacancy (paragraph 762).
(v) It was also concluded, that the term of an additional Judge could not be extended for three months or six months, since such short term appointments, were wholly inconsistent and contrary to the clear intendment of Article 224, and also, unbecoming of the dignity of a High Court Judge (paragraphs 763 and 764).
(vi) On the subject of extension of the term of an additional Judge, it was felt, that it was not open to the constitutional functionaries, to sit tight over a proposal, without expressing their opinion on the merits of the proposal, and by sheer inaction, to kill a proposal. It was accordingly opined, that when the term of an additional Judge was about to expire, it was obligatory on the Chief Justice of the High Court, to initiate the proposal for completing the process of consultation, before the period of initial appointment expired (paragraph 772).
(vii) With reference to the non-extension of the tenure of S.N. Kumar, J., it was felt, that when two high constitutional functionaries, namely, the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court and the Chief Justice of India, had met with a specific reference to his doubtful integrity, the act of not showing the letter dated 7.5.1981 to the Chief Justice of India, would not detract from the fullness of the consultation, as required by Article 217. Accordingly, it was held, that there was a full and effective consultation, on all relevant points, including those set out in the letter dated 7.5.1981. And the claim of the concerned Judge for continuation, was liable to be rejected. It was however suggested, that the Government of India could even now, show the letter dated 7.5.1981 to the Chief Justice of India, and request him to give his comments. After receiving his comments, the Government of India could decide afresh, whether S.N. Kumar, J., should be re-appointed as an additional Judge of the Delhi High Court. It was however clarified, that the proposed reconsideration, should not be treated as a direction, but a mere suggestion.
(viii) On the question, whether the consent of the concerned Judge should be obtained prior to his transfer under Article 222(1), it was concluded, that the requirement of seeking a prior consent, as a prerequisite for exercising the power of transfer under Article 222(1), deserved to be rejected (paragraph 813). It was however observed, that the above power of transfer under Article 222(1) could not be exercised in the absence of public interest, merely on the basis of whim, caprice or fancy of the executive, or its desire to bend a Judge to its own way of thinking. Three safeguards, namely, full and effective consultation with the Chief Justice of India, the exercise of power only aimed at public interest, and judicial review — in case the power was exercised contrary to the mandate of law, were suggested to insulate the “independence of the judiciary”, against an attempt by the executive to control it (paragraphs 813 to 815).
(ix) It was also concluded, that the transfer of an individual Judge, for something improper in his behavior, or conduct, would certainly cast a slur or attach a stigma, and would leave an indelible mark on his character. Even the High Court to which he was transferred would shun him, and the consumers of justice would have little or no faith in his judicial integrity. Accordingly it was concluded, that a transfer on account of any complaint or grievance against a Judge, referable to his conduct or behaviour, was impermissible under Article 222(1).
(x) On the question of transfer of K.B.N. Singh, CJ., it was felt, that his order of transfer was vitiated for want of effective consultation, and his selective transfer would cast a slur or stigma on him. It was felt, that the transfer did not appear to be in public interest. The order of transfer dated 20.12.1980 was accordingly, considered to be vitiated, and as such, was declared void.
(FOR FULL TEXT OF THE JUDGEMENT SEE THE ATTACHED FILE IN PDF FORM)