File photo: The Supreme Court of India. Photograph:( Reuters )
This brings us back to the issue of opaqueness in collegium's decisions, which have come under scrutiny in the past as well.
Not so long ago the collegium's decision to elevate Justice K M Joseph to the Supreme Court had met with various obstacles from the law ministry. After a constant back and forth between the ministry and the collegium recommendations, his elevation was finally a success.
In August last year, the ministry while returning Justice Joseph's recommendation back to the collegium categorically reasoned that he "lacked" seniority among other chief justices of the High Courts and that his elevation gave more representation to the state of Kerala. In 2019, Supreme Court Collegium is back in the spotlight for elevating Justice Sanjiv Khanna (Delhi High Court judge) and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari (Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court) superseding 32 other judges.
In a significant turn of events, there were strong indications that the collegium on December 12 had decided to elevate the current Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Justice Menon and Rajasthan High Court Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog but those resolutions didn't see the light of day.
On January 10 when the collegium recommended Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Dinesh Maheshwari's elevation to the Supreme Court, objections poured in against the collegium's decision from all corners, raising questions on the issue of transparency and outlining the randomness of the turn of events.
First to hit out at the collegium was former Delhi High Court Judge Kailash Gambhir, who wrote a letter to the President highlighting the issue with the current recommendation and called the decision "Appalling, outrageous and earth-shattering".
"This is appalling and outrageous that such an earth-shattering decision has been taken to supersede as many as 32 judges which include many Chief Justices, casting aspersions on their intellect, merit and integrity," Gambhir said.
While Justice Sanjiv Khanna is 33rd in the combined seniority of High Court judges in the country, Justice Gambhir wrote that his elevation would not only be a "black day in the Indian judiciary" but it would confirm court corridor gossip about paying respect to Justice H R Khanna's legacy (who is Justice Sanjiv Khanna's uncle).
Controversy erupted when Supreme Court judge Justice Sanjiv Kishan Kaul wrote a letter to CJI Ranjan Gogoi raising objections against the elevation of Justice Khanna and Justice Maheshwari. Reports suggest he highlighted the issue of bypassing Rajasthan High Court Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog's elevation and urged the CJI to reconsider his recommendation. According to Justice SK Kaul, Justice Nandrajog is the senior-most judge and not elevating him would send out a wrong signal. Sources have indicated that other judges in the Supreme Court have also raised objections to the current recommendations.
This brings us back to the issue of opaqueness in collegium's decisions, which have come under scrutiny in the past as well. While collegium resolutions and minutes of the meeting are shared on the Supreme Court's website, the transparency level has not gone up. It was in October 2017 when a resolution was passed by five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court - then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice J Chelameswar, Justice R Gogoi, Justice M Lokur, and Justice K Joseph to make collegium's decision public.
Supreme Court collegium - the body of SC judges that decides the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts made an effort to be more transparent and sent out the message that the collegium has nothing to hide from its citizens.
However, now with the recent controversy brewing in Supreme Court corridors, many are reiterating what Justice Chelameshwar had said in that unprecedented press conference, "Many things that are less than desirable have happened in the last few months".