Madras High Court Chief Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani, the senior most High Court judge in the country, has decided to put in her papers in the wake of a decision taken by the Supreme Court Collegium (comprising top five judges) to transfer her from the chartered High Court to a relatively small High Court of Meghalaya.
She made her decision public on September 6 night during a dinner hosted by six Madras High Court judges who were made permanent recently.
The dinner party was held at the Tamil Nadu State Judicial Academy building in Chennai and was attended by almost all judges of the High Court barring a few who had been deputed to the Madurai Bench. Thanking the puisne judges for their cooperation ever since she took over as the Chief Justice on August 12 last year, Justice Tahilramani told them that she had discharged her duty without any fear or favour right from the time she assumed office as a judge of the Bombay High Court in June 2001.
She had also served as an Acting Chief Justice of her parent High Court on three different occasions between 2015 and 2018 and carried an impeccable record of having been a judge for nearly two decades.
Though she was due to retire from service on October 2, 2020, the sudden transfer to a much smaller High Court upset her, she told them.
Sources privy to the September 6 dinner told The Hindu that almost all High Court judges, in unison, requested her to reconsider her decision to resign. “However, she was resolute and refused to budge. People could feel her pain. She said, her conscience was clear and that she would be leaving the institution with the satisfaction of having performed well,” a source said.
In the meantime, a section of lawyers practising in the Madras High Court shot off a representation to the Supreme Court stating that “these kind of arbitrary transfers whittle away the independence of the judiciary and the confidence of judges.” The representation had been signed by advocates N.G.R. Prasad, G. Masilamani, R. Vaigai and 100 others.
“To now transfer her to one of the smallest High Courts is nothing short of a punishment and a humiliation. It cannot be justified on the principle of administrative interests, which is an expression that can be used in every case. It is ironical that a person of her seniority is being assigned to the smallest High Court. Any transfer should meet with an element of fairness but it is noticed, of late, that there appears to be no norms in the matter of transfer of judges,” the memorandum read.
Recalling the words of former Supreme Court judge V. Khalid that transfer could be a more dangerous weapon than dismissal, the lawyers said: “It is a matter of concern that there are no checks and balances in matters of administration of judiciary. The style of functioning of the collegium leaves one with the impression that the High Court is subordinate to the Collegium. This affects the majesty of the High Courts and erodes their primacy of position in the constitutional scheme of things.”
They requested the Collegium to reconsider the transfer and ensure that the confidence of the Bar and the Bench and the litigant public did not get eroded further.