An indefensible transfer that needs to be reversed

It would be a classic case of an exercise of absolute power if the totally indefensible transfer of Madras High Court Chief Justice V.K. Tahilramani to the Meghalaya High Court is not reversed. Many questions arise in the wake of this decision by the collegium for which there are absolutely no answers. Justice Tahilramani is the senior-most High Court Judge in the country and, after having served three stints in the Bombay High Court as Acting Chief Justice, she was elevated and transferred as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, another prestigious chartered High Court.

The transfer comes at a time when the Supreme Court has been expressing concern about increasing corruption in the higher judiciary. Justice Tahilramani stands out as a judge with an impeccable record of honesty and without even the slightest needle of suspicion. There has been no complaint from any quarter against her. Keeping with her high dignity, the judge even refused to go to the press on this issue.

A person normally of that seniority and holding the post of the Chief Justice of a chartered High Court will legitimately expect to go to the Supreme Court. In the interests of better administration, judges are normally transferred to equally big courts but there has never been an instance of the senior-most judge, and that too the Chief Justice of a chartered High Court consisting of 75 judges, getting transferred to a Court consisting of only three judges, including the Chief Justice.

A case of humiliation

This is not only a case of humiliation but amounts to disgracing a person in public life. Justice Tahilramani has rightly reacted by putting in her resignation. Such transfers undermine the dignity of the judiciary and demoralise the judge.

Judges of the High Court are as much constitutional functionaries as judges of the Supreme Court. Under these circumstances, the most appropriate course of action for the Supreme Court would be to reconsider its decision and restore Justice Tahilramani back to the Madras High Court, or any other High Court of equal standing.

It is not as if in the past such decisions were not reconsidered. It is a well-known fact that Justice Rajiv Shakdher of the Delhi High Court was in 2016 transferred to the Madras High Court because he granted relief to a Greenpeace activist. It was a former Chief Justice of the Madras High Court who took it up with the collegium and saw to it that Justice Shakdher was transferred back.

In the interest of fairness

Fairness is the hallmark of justice and to deny fairness to a person who is administering justice with impeccable honesty would be denying justice to that very person. Hence, the Supreme Court collegium should not have any misgivings about reversing this decision.

In the Derek Bentley case, the English Court of Appeal had held, following more than three decades of relentless pursuit by the convict’s sister after the former had been awarded capital punishment and executed in 1953, that the conviction and sentencing were wrong. The Court of Appeal, after awarding the deceased a posthumous pardon, reflected and realised that only if such a mistake is ‘corrected’ would the image of the judiciary go up so that similar wrongs are not committed in the future.

The collegium needs to avoid committing a similar grave wrong and allow Justice Tahilramani, who has about a year of service left, to retire with dignity. The need of the hour calls not only for statesmanship but also courage.

N.G.R. Prasad and K.K. Ram Siddhartha are advocates at Madras High Court

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2021 3:12:50 PM |

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