Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha on Tuesday slammed the Centre for unilaterally segregating senior advocate Gopal Subramanium’s name for elevation as a Supreme Court judge without his knowledge and concurrence.
Speaking at a function to bid farewell to Justice B.S. Chauhan on his superannuation, the CJI said “The segregation of Mr. Gopal Subramanium’s name was done unilaterally by the Executive without my knowledge and concurrence which was not proper.”
Referring to Mr. Subramanium’s letter criticising the judiciary for not responding to media reports of the government not approving the proposal for his elevation, the CJI said: “This is one subject, which is non-negotiable. At no cost the independence of the judiciary will be allowed to be compromised. I will not hold my office if I feel that the independence of the institution of the judiciary has been compromised. I failed to understand that the appointment to a high constitutional position has been dealt with [by the government] in a casual manner.”
He said he spoke to Mr. Subramanium on June 24 while he was in Russia and told him he would take the matter forward on his return to India on June 28. However, he was shocked and disappointed to know that Mr. Subramanium had written a letter to him and made it public.
Mr. Subramanium, in his letter to Justice Lodha, had said “If I continue to be a judge-in-waiting, the validity of these appointments is bound to come under a cloud. The least I owe them is that I withdraw. I am, however, unable to dispel the sense of unease that the judiciary has failed to assert its independence by respecting likes and dislikes of the Executive. While harmony between different organs of the State is a desirable feature, the functionality of each organ is meant to have different, defining characteristics. I am more than willing to step out, but I trust you and your colleagues will undertake suitable introspection. The court owes me, in the very least, a clear statement of confidence although my personal character is not dependent on the outcome of such willingness. It is an act of closure, which a Court of Justice owes to its own members. By failing to do it, the court will sink into quicksand.”
The CJI regretted Mr. Subramanium making public his June 25 letter and said “the judiciary cannot react to media reports.” The CJI, however, made it clear that neither he nor other members of the judiciary would ever compromise its independence.
Explaining the sequence of events, the CJI said that on his return to India on June 28, he saw the file from the government returning the proposal on Mr. Subramanium for reconsideration. “I called Mr. Subramanium to my residence and had a talk with him for 75 minutes. I requested him to withdraw his June 25 letter [withdrawing his consent for judgeship] so that I could take up the matter with other collegium judges for reconsideration. Mr. Subramanium said he would respond the next day. On June 29, I received a six-line letter from him reiterating his stand to withdraw his consent. In view of this, the proposal [for recommending his name by the collegium] cannot be reconsidered. I discussed the issue with the members of the collegium and two future CJIs and felt there was no point in pursuing the matter further,” Justice Lodha said.
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