A meeting of the five-member Supreme Court Collegium led by Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde on Thursday on names to fill up the five judicial vacancies in the apex court ended on an inconclusive note.
This may be one of the last meetings of the Bobde Collegium before he retires on April 23. Though Chief Justice Bobde steered the top court through an unprecedented time, chances are high that he may retire without a successful judicial appointment to the Supreme Court during his tenure as top judge. Last year, the apex court successfully used the virtual medium to hear cases and functioned without missing a day of work through the pandemic and lockdown months.
The Thursday meeting ended with the Collegium deferring its decisions for a later date.
It is to be seen if Chief Justice Bobde would call another meeting in the few days left before his retirement, or, in the alternative, pass the baton to his successor and Chief Justice of India-designate, Justice N.V. Ramana, who takes over on April 24.
Normally, the incumbent Chief Justice does not involve with the Collegium work during his final days in office and after the Presidential appointment of his successor is notified. The time is used to effect a smooth transition.
Justices Rohinton F. Nariman, U.U. Lalit and A.M. Khanwilkar are the other members of the Collegium.
Several past meetings of the Bobde Collegium in the past weeks, even before the CJI’s recommendation of Justice Ramana as the 48th Chief Justice, were inconclusive as the judges could not reach a consensus on the names.
The Collegium has been discussing diverse opinions from within on issues like proportionate representation from various High Courts and seniority among High Court judges before finalising the names to recommend to the government for appointment. Proportionate representation and seniority, though only conventions and not constitutional or legal mandates, carry weight during the appointment process.
The last appointments to the Supreme Court were of Justices Krishna Murari, S. Ravindra Bhat, V. Ramasubramanian and Hrishikesh Roy in September 2019. The past several months have seen the Supreme Court function under a series of challenges posed by the pandemic even as its judicial strength has come down to 29 with the recent retirement of Justice Indu Malhotra.
The oldest vacancy of the lot of current five in the Supreme Court was that of Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who had retired on November 17, 2019.
The year 2021 would further see four retirements in the top court, starting with Chief Justice Bobde, Justices Ashok Bhushan, Rohinton Nariman and Naveen Sinha. The latter two judges retire in August and a few days apart.
The names of several High Court judges are in the zone of consideration.
Information published by the Law Ministry on March 1 show that the seniormost among current Chief Justices of the 25 High Courts, as per their initial appointment in 2003 and 2004, are Chief Justices A.S. Oka (Karnataka), Akil Abdulhamid Kureshi (Tripura), DN Patel (Delhi), Govind Mathur (Allahabad), Vikram Nath (Gujarat) and T.B. Radhakrishnan (Calcutta).
The name of Justice B.V. Nagarathna from the Karnataka High Court is also under consideration to replace Justice Indu Malhotra’s vacancy.