Bangalore: Expressing “deep anguish” on views of Press Council of India Chairman Markandey Katju that the Chief Justice of India should be selected on merit and not on the basis of seniority, the All India Bar Association has communicated to the President Pranab Mukherjee. AIBA said that the current system has stood the test of time.
The All India Bar Association said it condemns any attempt to bring out such a proposal which could potentially hamper independence of judiciary.
In a communication to the President, its chairman Dr. Adish C Aggarwala referred to a ruling by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in 1993 and said the apex court had held that the principle of seniority must be followed in determination of the incumbent to the office of the Chief Justice of India.
"The practice of the senior-most judge being appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has stood test of time. It has been mandated by the Supreme Court on the judicial side. It has the approval of the Bar and the community of jurists. It immunises the judiciary from political influence," said Dr. Aggarwala.
Dr Aggarwala released the letter, copies of which were also sent to Prime Minister and CJI, at Press Club of Bangalore in the presence of Mr. Bhoje Gowda S L, Vice Chairman, Bar Council of India, Mr. B.D. Hiremath, Vice-Chairman, All India Bar Association and President, Advocate Association, Karnataka High Court, Dharwad Bench and Mr. K.N. Subba Reddy, President, Bangalore Bar Association.
Suspecting a “hidden agenda” in the timing of Justice Katju's statement favouring merit over seniority, the bar leaders urged the Government not to be misled by such statements while appointing the next Chief Justice of India.
“There is no judge in the Supreme Court of India without merit and the Government should stick to seniority as the criteria and appoint Justice H.L. Dattu, the senior most judge in Supreme Court.”
“Judiciary was in a quandary when seniority was violated twice in independent India,” said Mr. K.N. Subba Reddy, President, Bangalore Bar Association.
The bar leaders reminded that BJP and its previous avatar Bharatiya Jan Sangh vehemently protested against violation of seniority when Indira Gandhi Government appointed Justice A.N. Ray superseding three Judges – K.S. Hegde, A.N. Grover and Shelat, who were all senior to Justice Ray. India's fair name for maintaining transparency and independence in judiciary was under cloud nationally and internationally and such ugly scenes must not be repeated.
To a question why the Bar had not taken up the issue with Justice Katju, Dr. Aggarwala said the lawyers in Chennai had asked this very question on who should be next CJI. “He had no answer,” he said.
Mr. Bhoje Gowda, Vice Chairman of Bar Council of India expressed his unhappiness over the lack of consultation process on the National Judicial Appointment Bill.
President of High Court Bar Association, Dharwad Bench and Vice Chairman of All India Bar Association Mr. B.D. Hiremath discounted the tendency among the judges to make statement on judiciary after they had demitted their offices but kept silence on the issues when they were in service. This tendency will tarnish the fair name of judiciary, he said.
Katju, a former Supreme Court judge, last week had pitched for appointment of Chief Justice of India (CJI) on the basis of merit and not on the basis of seniority.
He said there is no constitutional provision or statutory rule of the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court being appointed as Chief Justice and therefore "outstanding" Chief Justice of a High Court can directly be appointed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Katju felt the convention of appointment of CJI at present is often leading to "undesirable results" causing great harm to the judiciary.