(This story originally appeared in on Nov 25, 2022)NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court collegium headed by the CJI is mandated, by two Constitution bench judgments in the 1990s, to choose judges on merit, with an eye on seniority, and ensure representational balance based on region and community.
Regional balance has seldom been achieved with many high courts going unrepresented in the SC for long years. Meritorious and senior judges from these unrepresented HCs, who have spent considerable time heading the judiciaries of various states, continue to wait in the hope that they would receive the all-important nod from the collegium.
Community-based balance is never achieved in the SC, which may be without a judge from the Muslim community if the collegium does not recommend a name from that community who would be appointed as SC judge prior to the retirement of Justice S Abdul Nazeer on January 4. Many detractors of the collegium system, which even insiders had termed as an opaque system that makes compromises while adopting ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’ approach, allege that lineage of the candidates has traditionally been one of the important considerations for their appointment as Constitution court judges.
One who stands out is Justice C T Ravikumar, whose father was a bench clerk in the trial court at Changanassery, Kerala. There are many first-generation lawyers who have made it to the SC, which at present has 27 judges. From their biodatas uploaded in SC website, the first-generation lawyers who are now SC judges include Justices Nazeer, Surya Kant, A Bose, A S Bopanna, Krishna Murari, S R Bhat, V Ramasubramanian, Hrishikesh Roy, J K Maheshwari, Hima Kohli and M M Sundresh. Six of the present judges had their father either as SC judge or HC judge. CJI D Y Chandrachud’s father Y V Chandrachud was the 16th CJI of India; Justice K M Joseph’s father K K Mathew was an SC judge from 1971-76; Justice Sanjiv Khanna’s father was a Delhi HC judge, and his uncle was the illustrious Justice H R Khanna who was denied CJI post for defying Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s emergency eradiktat.
Father of Justice B V Nagarathna (who would become first woman CJI for 36 days in 2027) was former CJI E S Venkataramiah, who was in top post for six months in his 10-year stint as a judge. Fathers of both Justices P S Narasimha and Sudhanshu Dhulia were high court judges.
Justice Bela Trivedi, whorose from the trial court to the SC, was appointed a civil judge in Ahmedabad district court where her father too was a judge. The SC judges whose fathers were eminent lawyers are Justices M R Shah, A Rastogi, Dinesh Maheshwari, A S Oka, Vikram Nath and J B Pardiwala.
Justice Sanjay K Kaul had a distinguished lineage with his ancestors serving in high positions in royalty in Kashmir and across the border. Justice B R Gavai’s father is well known parliamentarian and social activist S R Gavai, who was also former governor of Bihar and Kerala. Justice A S Bopanna’s father was a known politician in erstwhile Janata Party in Karnataka.
There had been numerous instances of supersessions in appointments to the SC, the most recent being the appointments of Justices Dhulia and Pardiwala. Justice Dhulia superseded 23CJs/ acting CJs and six HC judges. Justice Pardiwalanot only superseded allCJs/acting CJs of HCs,also jumped over 25 more HCjudges.
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