Decision taken in view of significant feedback, say sources

A day after senior advocate and former Solicitor-General Gopal Subramanium withdrew his consent for appointment as a Supreme Court judge, highly placed government sources claimed that the government rejected his candidature after it got “overwhelming evidence” that indicated his unsuitability as a judge for the country’s top court.

While respecting Mr. Subramanium’s professional competence as a senior advocate, the sources on Thursday said an Intelligence Bureau (IB) report about him was sent on May 22, four days before the Narendra Modi government was sworn in. The Law and Justice Ministry had decided that the new government should take a call on it.

On Wednesday, in a nine-page letter, Mr. Subramanium told Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha that he did not want his elevation to be the subject of any kind of politicisation. He also questioned the segregation of his name from the other three candidates without the consent of the Supreme Court collegium.

Decision in totality

Defending the segregation, government sources said there was precedent at the Supreme Court and High Court level. “The government did not want to delay the appointment of the three other judges as there was no objection or adverse report against them. Whom he appeared for and whom he opposed was not considered. It is his suitability as a Supreme Court judge which was the issue and the new government has a right to take a decision in view of the significant feedback that required a consideration. The decision was taken in totality,” the sources said.

The file containing the other three names — Calcutta High Court Chief Justice Arun Mishra, Orissa High Court Chief Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and senior advocate Rohinton Nariman — was cleared by the Prime Minister and approved by the President in a matter of a few hours, the sources said. Citing the example of Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice C.K. Prasad, the sources said while Justice Kumar was appointed apex court judge in due course in 2009, Justice Prasad’s elevation was delayed by two months.

The sources said there were several instances where the collegium of several High Courts itself had withdrawn some names which had been proposed for appointment as judges. In 2012, as many as 15 names were recommended by the Allahabad High Court collegium to be appointed as judges but the Supreme Court recommended only eight, dropping seven.

In 2012, the Andhra Pradesh High Court collegium recommended seven names but only five were appointed as judges. In 2013, the Madras High Court recommended eight names for appointment as judges but only five were found suitable.

Partisan step

Critical of the stand taken by the Modi government on Mr. Subramanium, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on Thursday said the apex court should act and undo the damage caused by this “partisan” step.

It said the way the Modi government acted would be detrimental to the independence of judiciary. “Mr. Subramanium had been penalised for his role as amicus curiae to assist the Supreme Court in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case which resulted in Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amit Shah being charge-sheeted in the case,” the CPI(M) said.

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