Justice KM Joseph's elevation to Supreme Court has been cleared by the centre (File)
New Delhi: A group of judges met Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra today, upset about what they believe is the government's attempt to alter the seniority of Justice KM Joseph - whose elevation to the Supreme Court has been cleared after much back-and-forth in the past eight months. The chief justice reportedly promised the judges, including three from the Supreme Court collegium or panel that recommends appointments, that he would take up their protest with the centre. Government sources have justified the order that places Justice Joseph last among the three judges to be sworn in on Tuesday.
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Several Supreme Court judges say the government order is unfair since Justice Joseph's name was recommended long before those of Justices Indira Banerjee and Vineet Sharan.
They accuse the government of "blatant interference and pettiness" for being forced to accept Justice Joseph's name after its objections were overruled by the judges' panel.
Denying the charge, government sources said Justice Joseph was appointed high court judge in October 2004, more than two years after Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Vineet Sharan (both in February 2002).
Sources also pointed out that in the all-India seniority list of judges, Justice Banerjee is at number 4, Justice Sharan at 5 and Justice Joseph places 39.
Justice Joseph did become Chief Justice before the other two judges, said sources, but seniority is decided on the date of appointment as high court judge, not Chief Justice.
Countering that argument, sources in judiciary told NDTV "seniority is not the only criteria for elevation to the Supreme Court", and that's why the collegium rejected the government's contention on seniority and stood firm by its recommendation of Justice Joseph.
The Supreme Court collegium named Justice Joseph for elevation in January, but the government sent back his file questioning the choice and pointing to inadequate representation in the top court from other states, especially Kerala. As the collegium reasserted its choice of Justice Joseph, the government was forced to accept it.
The government denies opposition allegations that its objections were linked to Justice Joseph's order in 2016 scrapping President's Rule in Uttarakhand, which helped restore the Congress's government.
The centre says there is a precedent involving Chief Justice Misra, and retired Justice Jasti Chelameswar, who criticised him publicly. Justice Mishra became a high court judge more than a year before Justice Chelameswar but was appointed High Court Chief Justice two years after him.
When the president signed their order, Justice Misra was on top and he was first to be sworn in, and so he went on to become the Chief Justice of India.