Lost SC berth for opposing HC judgeship for CJI Kabir’s sister: Guj CJ
Gujarat High Court Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya has complained that Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir — who retires on July 18 — blocked his elevation to the Supreme Court earlier this year because, as a member of the collegium of the Calcutta High Court, he had opposed the appointment of CJI Kabir’s lawyer sister to the Bench, a decision he said was tantamount to “rape” of the court.
On September 13, 2010, the CJI’s sister, Shukla Kabir Sinha, was appointed to the bench of the Calcutta HC after the HC collegium ignored Justice Bhattacharya’s written submission on why she should not be appointed to the post.
CJI Kabir — then a senior judge of the apex court — was a member of the SC collegium that considered the HC’s recommendation. However, sources said he had recused himself from the meeting.
On March 19 this year, after being overlooked for elevation to the Supreme Court by a collegium headed by CJI Kabir, Chief Justice Bhattacharya, who was the third seniormost High Court Chief Justice at the time, sent a 10-page letter to the President of India, Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India.
Two other High Court CJs — Bombay High Court CJ Mohit S Shah and Uttarakhand High Court CJ Barin Ghosh — too were overlooked for elevation.
In his letter to the CJI, accessed by The Indian Express, Chief Justice Bhattacharya wrote: “As a human being, I have a reasonable basis to apprehend that the fact that as a member of the collegium while I was a judge of the Calcutta HC, I raised serious objections against the elevation of Smt Shukla Kabir Sinha, your (CJI Altamas Kabir’s) younger sister, is the real reason for making such observations against me.”
When contacted, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said: “The letter was addressed to the Chief Justice of India, and the PMO had no role to play in it as appointments of judges are decided by the collegium.”
Justice Bhattacharya has asked that his letter be shown to all members of the collegium. He has also requested that he be shown “the material which led you (CJI Kabir) to take such a decision regarding my competence and character”. He has said that he will resign if he is given “justifiable reasons”.
Neither CJI Kabir nor Justice Bhattacharya could be reached for a comment. Questionnaires emailed to their offices elicited no response. Justice Shukla Kabir Sinha was not available for a comment. Law Minister Kapil Sibal declined to comment.
While rejecting the claim of the three seniormost CJs, the collegium had said that they were “not suitable to hold the office of Supreme Court judge and their elevation as such would prove to be counter-productive and not conducive to administration of justice,” according to a Hindustan Times report which Justice Bhattacharya has quoted in his letter.
Justice Bhattacharya has also given his reasons for opposing the CJI’s sister’s name for judgeship, including what he has called her poor practice, reflected in her annual income-tax statements.
“In my view as an advocate who at the age of 58 years is just capable of earning a net amount of Rs 88,000 from practice should in no case be recommended for judgeship. We cannot lose sight of the fact that a High Court chaprasi gets more than Rs 13,000 per month as salary which is equivalent to Rs 1,56,000 per annum which is almost double the income of Mrs Shukla Kabir Sinha from her practice as a lawyer,” he wrote in his note for the collegium, extracts from which are part of his letter to the CJI.
The letter also says that he had raised the issue of the CJI’s sister taking “four years for passing BA examination after clearing senior Cambridge and five years for getting MA degree after graduation, although the usual time taken for clearing these examinations is three years and two years respectively”.
“I don’t have a personal inimical feeling against Mrs Sinha who is just like my sister… However, as I treat the HC to which I belong for the full time-being as my mother, I earnestly believed that to elevate Mrs Sinha at the age of 59, there is no instance in the past of elevation of a Judge from the Bar at the age of 59 years… would give a wrong signal and people would lose faith in the judiciary and the collegium system… For the above reasons, I made my observations which, however, didn’t get the approval of the Chief Justice of the Calcutta HC and of Judge Pinaki Chandra Ghose, who was the other member of the collegium and who has superseded me this time,” the letter reads. “So far as I can remember, Justice Pinaki Ghose in his recommendation observed that if Shukla Kabir is elevated as a judge, she would be an asset to the judiciary.”
Justice Bhattacharya has also written, “When time came for selection of Smt Shukla Kabir Sinha as a Judge of the HC, I was pressured to agree to such a proposal as a member of the collegium, but I thought it would amount to committing rape of the Calcutta HC, which was like my mother and if I didn’t raise any objections that would amount to closing my eyes while my mother was being raped. As a result, I used rather strong words so that by looking at the nature of words used by me, the person responsible for sending such a recommendation would have a second thought… Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in resisting the rape of my mother in spite of my earnest endeavour. However, at the time of my death, I will not repent that I ever compromised with wrong for the sake of my career.”
* Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya also referred to “another recent incident” that he says could have made the collegium reject him.
* According to Justice Bhattacharya, a former Gujarat HC Chief Justice who is now in the Supreme Court withdrew an excess amount of Rs 54,650 as TA/DA which is not permissible without furnishing proof.
* “There are several other honourable judges who had withdrawn similar amounts in excess of the rules. After receiving such clarification from the Centre, I, as the chief justice of the Gujarat HC, placed the matter in the Standing Committee of seven judges and they unanimously resolved that the honourable judges… should pay back the excess amount,” his letter reads.
* As per the letter, when the judge, who is now in the Supreme Court, was requested to repay the excess amount, his office wrote to the HC registrar telling him “not to make any such unnecessary and unwarranted correspondence.”
* “As your younger brother, I seek advice from you as to what should be my duty as the present CJ if I find that a former Chief Justice of the High Court who is now judge of the SC is found to have withdrawn excess amount not intentionally but due to some ambiguity in existing rules?” the CJ asks the CJI.