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NJAC judgment

Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record -

Association and another … Petitioner(s)

versus

Union of India … Respondent(s)


Judicial pronouncements


103. The question of the appointment of judges (mainly of the High Courts) came up for consideration in this Court on three occasions. The decision rendered in each of these cases is not only of considerable importance but also indicates the complexity in the appointment of judges and the struggle by the Bar to maintain the independence of the judiciary from executive interference and encroachment. These three cases are referred to as the First Judges case,[264] the Second Judges case[265] and the Third Judges case.[266] There have been other significant pronouncements on the subject and they will be considered at the appropriate stage.


2 First judges case – 30.12.1981


104. The First Judges case is important for several reasons, but I am concerned with a few of them. These are: (1) The independence of the judiciary was held to be a part of the basic feature of the Constitution.[267] This was the first judgment to so hold. (2) The appointment of a judge is serious business and is recognized as a very vital component of the independence of the judiciary. ‘What is necessary is to have Judges who are prepared to fashion new tools, forge new methods, innovate new strategies and evolve a new jurisprudence, who are judicial statesmen with a social vision and a creative faculty and who have, above all, a deep sense of commitment to the Constitution with an activist approach and obligation for accountability, not to any party in power nor to the opposition nor to the classes which are vociferous but to the half-hungry millions of India who are continually denied their basic human rights. We need Judges who are alive to the socio-economic realities of Indian life, who are anxious to wipe every tear from every eye, who have faith in the constitutional values and who are ready to use law as an instrument for achieving the constitutional objectives. This has to be the broad blueprint of the appointment project for the higher echelons of judicial service. It is only if appointments of Judges are made with these considerations weighing predominantly with the appointing authority that we can have a truly independent judiciary committed only to the Constitution and to the people of India.’[268] Justice Venkataramiah, however, was of the view that the independence of the judiciary is relatable only to post- appointment and that ‘It is difficult to hold that merely because the power of appointment is with the executive, the independence of the judiciary would become impaired. The true principle is that after such appointment the executive should have no scope to interfere with the work of a Judge.’[269] (3) In the appointment of a judge of the Supreme Court or the High Court, the word ‘consultation’ occurring in Article 124(2) and in Article 217(1) of the Constitution does not mean ‘concurrence’.[270] However, for the purposes of consultation, each constitutional functionary must have full and identical facts relating to the appointment of a judge and the consultation should be based on this identical material.[271] (4) In the event of a disagreement between the constitutional functionaries required to be consulted in the appointment of a judge, the Union Government would decide whose opinion should be accepted and whether an appointment should be made or not. In such an event, the opinion of the Chief Justice of India has no primacy.[272] The ‘ultimate power’ of appointment of judges to the superior Courts rests with the Union Government.[273] (This is completely contrary to the view of the Constituent Assembly and Dr. Ambedkar).


(5) The extant system of appointment of judges is not an ideal system of appointment. The idea of a consultative panel (called a collegium or Judicial Commission) was floated as a replacement. This body was to consist of persons expected to have knowledge of persons who might be fit for appointment on the Bench and possessed of qualities required for such an appointment. Countries like Australia and New Zealand ‘have veered round to the view that there should be a Judicial Commission for appointment of the higher judiciary.’[274] Incidentally, we were informed during the course of hearing that even about 35 years after the decision in the First Judges case neither Australia nor New Zealand have established a Judicial Commission as yet.


105. On the meaning of ‘consultation’ for the purposes of Article 124(2) and Article 217(1) of the Constitution, Justice Bhagwati who spoke for the majority relied upon Union of India v. Sankalchand Himmatlal Sheth[275] and R. Pushpam v. State of Madras[276] to hold that:


“Each of the constitutional functionaries required to be consulted under these two articles must have for his consideration full and identical facts bearing upon appointment or non-appointment of the person concerned as a Judge and the opinion of each of them taken on identical material must be considered by the Central Government before it takes a decision whether or not to appoint the person concerned as a Judge.”[277]


106. The majority view in the First Judges case was overruled in the Second Judges case and it was held that ‘consultation’ in Article 217 and Article 124 of the Constitution meant that ‘primacy’ in the appointment of judges must rest with the Chief Justice of India.[278] The evolution of the collegium system and a Judicial Commission will be discussed a little later, although it must be noted that the seeds thereof were sown (apart from the Reports of the LCI) in the First Judges case.


107. I do not think it necessary to further discuss the First Judges case since it has been elaborately considered by Justice Khehar.


3 Subhash Sharma’s case


108. In a writ petition filed in this Court praying for filling up the vacancies of judges in the Supreme Court and several High Courts of the country, a three judge Bench was of the view that the First Judges case required reconsideration.[279] It was observed that the decision of the majority not only rejects the primacy of the Chief Justice of India but also whittles down the significance of ‘consultation’.


109. It was noted that the Constitution (Sixty-seventh Amendment) Bill, 1990 was pending consideration in Parliament and that the Statement of Objects and Reasons for the Amendment Act acknowledged that there was criticism of the existing system of appointment of judges (where the executive had the primacy) and that this needed change, hence the need for an Amendment Act.[280]


110. On the issue of executive interference in the appointment of judges, the Bench found that interference went to the extent of impermissibly re- opening the appointment process even though a recommendation for the appointment of a judge had been accepted by the Chief Justice of India. It was observed:


“From the affidavits filed by the Union of India and the statements made by learned Attorney General on the different occasions when the matter was heard we found that the Union Government had [pic]adopted the policy of reopening recommendations even though the same had been cleared by the Chief Justice of India on the basis that there had in the meantime been a change in the personnel of the Chief Justice of the High Court or the Chief Minister of the State. The selection of a person as a Judge has nothing personal either to the Chief Justice of the High Court or the Chief Minister of the State. The High Court is an institution of national importance wherein the person appointed as a Judge functions in an impersonal manner. The process of selection is intended to be totally honest and upright with a view to finding out the most suitable person for the vacancy. If in a given case the Chief Justice of the High Court has recommended and the name has been considered by the Chief Minister and duly processed through the Governor so as to reach the hands of the Chief Justice of India through the Ministry of Justice and the Chief Justice of India as the highest judicial authority in the country, on due application of his mind, has given finality to the process at his level, there cannot ordinarily be any justification for reopening the matter merely because there has been a change in the personnel of the Chief Justice or the Chief Minister of the State concerned.”[281]


111. Apart from the above, the Bench was of the view that the interpretation given by the majority in the First Judges case to ‘consultation’ was not correctly appreciated in the constitutional scheme. It was also felt that the role of the institution of the Chief Justice of India in the constitutional scheme had been denuded in the First Judges case. Keeping all these factors in mind, particularly the functioning of the appointment process and the acknowledgement of the Union Government that a change was needed, it was observed:


“The view taken by Bhagwati, J., Fazal Ali, J., Desai, J., and Venkataramiah, J., to which we will presently advert, in our opinion, not only seriously detracts from and denudes the primacy of the position, implicit in the constitutional scheme, of the Chief Justice of India in the consultative process but also whittles down the very significance of “consultation” as required to be understood in the constitutional scheme and context. This bears both on the substance and the process of the constitutional scheme….. Consistent with the constitutional purpose and process it becomes imperative that the role of the institution of the Chief Justice of India be recognised as of crucial importance in the matter of appointments to the Supreme Court and the High Courts of the States. We are of the view that this aspect dealt with in Gupta case requires reconsideration by a larger bench.”[282]


112. The issues for consideration of a larger Bench were then formulated in the following words:


“The points which require to be reconsidered relate to and arise from the views of the majority opinion touching the very status of “consultation” generally and in particular with reference to “consultation” with Chief Justice of India and, secondly, as to the primacy of the role of the Chief Justice of India. The content and quality of consultation may perhaps vary in different situations in the interaction between the executive and the judicial organs of the State and some aspects may require clarification.”[283]


113. It was also observed that a view was expressed in the First Judges case that the government of the State could initiate a proposal for the appointment of a judge but that the proposal could not be sent directly to the Union Government, but should first be sent to the Chief Justice of the High Court.[284] Notwithstanding this clear exposition, the procedure was being distorted by the executive and a proposal for the appointment of judge of the High Court was being sent directly to the Union Government. It was said in this regard:


“But it has been mentioned that a practice is sought to be developed where the executive government of the State sends up the proposals directly to the Centre without reference to the Chief Justice of the State. This is a distortion of the constitutional scheme and is wholly impermissible. So far as the executive is concerned, the ‘right’ to initiate an appointment should be limited to suggesting appropriate names to the Chief Justice of the High Courts or the Chief Justice of India. If the recommendation is to emanate directly from a source other than that of the Chief Justices of the High Courts in the case of the High Courts and the Chief Justice of India in the case of both the High Courts and the Supreme Court it would be difficult for an appropriate selection to be made. It has been increasingly felt over the decades that there has been an anxiety on the part of the government of the day to assert its choice in the ultimate selection of Judges. If the power to recommend would vest in the State Government or even the Central Government, the picture is likely to be blurred and the process of selection ultimately may turn out to be difficult.”[285]


114. By-passing the Chief Justice of the High Court in the matter of recommending a person for appointment as a judge of the High Court was an unhealthy practice that the political executive of the State was trying to establish since around the time of Independence. This ‘subterfuge’ was deprecated on more than one occasion, as noticed above.


115. Another practice that the political executive was trying to establish was to recommend persons for appointment as a judge of the High Court to the Chief Justice of that High Court. In this context, it was also stated in Subhash Sharma (as quoted above) that: ‘It has been increasingly felt over the decades that there has been an anxiety on the part of the government of the day to assert its choice in the ultimate selection of Judges.’[286] This unequivocally indicates that the malaise of executive interference in appointing judges to the superior judiciary, first highlighted in the Memorandum emanating from the Chief Justices Conference and then by the LCI in its 14th Report, continued in some form or the other through the entire period from Independence till the early 1990s. In addition, the recommendation given in the 14th Report of the LCI in Chapter 6 regarding the executive not being entitled to ‘propose a nominee of its own and forward it to the Centre’ was not given the due weight and consideration that it deserved from the executive.


116. Quite clearly, some complex issues arose in the matter of appointment of judges primarily due to the interference of the political executive and these needed consideration by a larger Bench. Well established and accepted constitutional conventions were sought to be disregarded by the political executive. If the independence of the judiciary was to be maintained and parliamentary democracy was to be retained, the First Judges case and the appointment process needed a fresh look.


4 Second Judges case – 6.10.1993


117. As mentioned above, the Second Judges case was the result of an acknowledgement that: (1) The existing system of appointment of judges in which the executive had the ‘ultimate power’ needed reconsideration since that ‘ultimate power’ was being abused; (2) The existing system of appointment of judges resulted in some appointments in which merit was overlooked due to executive interference or for extraneous considerations. The Chief Justice of the High Court was occasionally by-passed by the political executive and a recommendation for the appointment of a person as a judge of the High Court was made directly to the Union Government. This unfortunate situation had continued for more than 40 years and an attempt to bring about a change was made and so a Constitution Amendment Bill was introduced in Parliament, but it lapsed.


118. In the Second Judges case it was held by Justice Pandian: (1) The selection and appointment of a proper and fit candidate to the superior judiciary is one of the inseparable and vital conditions for securing the independence of the judiciary.[287] ‘The erroneous appointment of an unsuitable person is bound to produce irreparable damage to the faith of the community in the administration of justice and to inflict serious injury to the public interest...’[288] (2) Yet another facet of the independence of the judiciary is the separation between the executive and the judiciary (including the superior judiciary)[289] postulated by Article 50 of the Constitution.[290] (3) The Memorandum of Procedure for the selection and appointment of judges filed by the Union of India along with the written submissions relating to the pre First Judges case period and the extant procedure as mentioned in the 121st Report of the LCI relating to the post First Judges case period are more or less the same. They indicate that the recommendation for filling up a vacancy in the Supreme Court is initiated by the Chief Justice of India and the recommendation for filling up a vacancy in the High Court is initiated by the Chief Justice of the High Court. The Chief Minister of a State may recommend a person for filling up a vacancy in the High Court, but that is to be routed only through the Chief Justice of the High Court.[291] (4) Reiterating the view expressed in Sankalchand Sheth and the First Judges case it was held that for the purposes of consultation, the materials before the President and the Chief Justice of India must be identical.[292] (5) For the appointment of a judge of the Supreme Court (under Article 124(2) of the Constitution) or a judge of a High Court (under Article 217(1) of the Constitution) consultation with the Chief Justice of India is mandatory.[293] (6) In the process of constitutional consultation in selecting judges to the Supreme Court or the High Court and transfer of judges of the High Court, the opinion of the Chief Justice of India is entitled to primacy.[294] (7) Agreeing with the majority opinion written by Justice J.S. Verma, it was held that if there are weighty and cogent reasons for not accepting the recommendation of the Chief Justice of India for the appointment of a judge, then the appointment may not be made. However, if the ‘weighty and cogent’ reasons are not acceptable to the Chief Justice of India, and the recommendation is reiterated, then the appointment shall be made.[295] (8) The majority opinion in the First Judges case regarding the primacy of the executive in the matter of appointment of judges was overruled.[296]


119. Justice Ahmadi dissented with the opinion of the majority and concluded: (1) Judicial independence is ingrained in our constitutional scheme and Article 50 of the Constitution ‘illuminates it’.[297] (2) The First Judges case was not required to be overruled but on the question of primacy in the matter of appointment of judges, the opinion of the Chief Justice of India is entitled to ‘graded weight’.[298]


120. Justice Kuldip Singh agreed with the majority and laid great stress on constitutional conventions that had evolved over several decades. The learned judge held: (1) Security of tenure is not the only source of independence of the judiciary but ‘there has to be an independent judiciary as an institution.’[299] (2) Independence of the judiciary is inextricably linked and connected with the constitutional process of appointment of judges of the higher judiciary. There cannot be an independent judiciary when the power of appointment of judges vests in the executive.[300] (3) The President is bound by the advice given by the Council of Ministers.[301] (4) A constitutional convention is established since the Government of India Act, 1935 (I would add the words ‘at least’) that the appointment of judges was invariably made with the concurrence of the Chief Justice of India. The opinion and recommendation of the Chief Justice of India in the matter of appointment of judges binds the executive.[302] (5) In the matter of appointment of judges, consultation with the Chief Justice of India is mandatory.[303] (6) In the consultation process under Article 124(2) and 217(1) of the Constitution, the advice and recommendation of the Chief Justice of India is binding on the executive and must be the final word. The majority view in the First Judges case does not lay down the correct law.[304] (7) For the purposes of Article 124(2) and 217(1) of the Constitution, the Chief Justice of India and the Chief Justice of the High Court mean the functionaries representing their respective Court.[305]


121. One of the more interesting facts pointed out by Justice Kuldip Singh is that from 1st January, 1983 (after the decision in the First Judges case) till 10th April, 1993 (that is during a period of ten years) the opinion of the Chief Justice of India was not accepted by the President in as many as seven cases. This is worth contrasting with a part of the period before the ‘ultimate power’ theory was propounded when the opinion of the Chief Justice of India was not accepted by the President only in one case and in that case, the opinion of the Chief Justice of the High Court (not the political executive) was accepted. This is what the learned judge had to say:


“Mr S.K. Bose, Joint Secretary, Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice has filed an affidavit dated April 22, 1993 before us. In para 6 of the said affidavit it is stated as under:


“As regards the appointments of Judges made, not in consonance with the views expressed by the Chief Justice of India, it is respectfully submitted that since January 1, 1983 to April 10, 1993, there have been only seven such cases, five of these were in 1983 (2 in January 1983, 2 in July 1983, 1 in August 1983); one in September 1985 and one in March 1991, out of a total of 547 appointments made during this period.” It is thus obvious from the facts and figures given by the executive itself that in actual practice the recommendations of the Chief Justice of India have invariably been accepted.”[306]


122. Justice Verma speaking for the majority held: (1) Independence of the judiciary has to be safeguarded not only by providing security of tenure and other conditions of service, but also by preventing political considerations in making appointments of judges to the superior judiciary.[307] (2) In the matter of appointment of judges, primacy was given to the executive in the Government of India Act, 1919 and the Government of India Act, 1935 but in the constitutional scheme, primacy of the executive is excluded.[308] (3) The Chief Justice of India and the Chief Justice of the High Court are ‘best equipped to know and assess the worth of a candidate, and his suitability for appointment as a superior judge.’ In the event of a difference of opinion between the executive and the judiciary, the opinion of the Chief Justice of India should have the greatest weight. [This echoed Dr. Ambedkar’s view that consultation would be between persons who are well qualified to give advice in matters of this sort.] Therefore, since primacy is not with the executive, then in such a situation, it must lie with the Chief Justice of India.[309] This certainly does not exclude the executive from the appointment process. The executive might be aware (unlike a Chief Justice) of some antecedents or some information relatable to the personal character or trait of a lawyer or a judge which might have a bearing on the potential of a person becoming a good judge.[310] This might form the basis for rejecting a recommendation for the appointment of a person as a judge by the Chief Justice of India.[311] (4) Primacy of the opinion of the Chief Justice of India is not to his/her individual opinion but to the collective opinion of the Chief Justice of India and his/her senior colleagues or those who are associated with the function of appointment of judges.[312] Therefore, the President may not accept the recommendation of a person for appointment as a judge, if the recommendation of the Chief Justice of India is not supported by the unanimous opinion of the other senior judges.[313] The President may return for reconsideration a unanimous recommendation for good reasons. However, in the latter event, if the Chief Justice of India and the other judges consulted by him/her, unanimously reiterate the recommendation ‘with reasons for not withdrawing the recommendation, then that appointment as a matter of healthy convention ought to be made.’[314] (The key word here is unanimous – both at the stage of the initial recommendation and at the stage of reiteration).


(5) For appointing a judge of the Supreme Court or the High Court, consultation with the Chief Justice of India or the Chief Justice of the High Court is mandatory.[315] (6) The President in Articles 124(2) and 217(1) of the Constitution means the President acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head.[316] (7) The advice given by the Council of Ministers to the President should be in accord with the Constitution. Such an advice is binding on the President. Since the opinion of the Chief Justice of India (representing the Judiciary) has finality, the advice of the Council of Ministers to the President must be in accordance with the opinion of the Chief Justice of India.[317] (8) The convention is that the appointment process is initiated by the Chief Justice of India for the appointment of a judge to the Supreme Court and by the Chief Justice of the High Court for the appointment of a judge to the High Court. There is no reason to depart from this convention.[318] (9) The law laid down in the First Judges case is not the correct view.[319]


123. In his otherwise dissenting opinion, Justice Punchhi supported the view taken by Justice Verma to the extent that the executive could not disapprove the views of the Chief Justice of India or the views of the Chief Justice of the High Court (as the case may be) when a recommendation is made for the appointment of a judge to a superior court.[320]


124. The most significant feature of the Second Judges case is that it introduced what has come to be called a ‘collegium system’ of consultation for the appointment of judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts. As far as the Chief Justice of India is concerned, the collegium system broad- based his/her role in the appointment of judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court and (in one sense) diluted his/her role in the appointment process by taking it out of the individualized or personalized role of the Chief Justice of India as thought of by Dr. Ambedkar. The consultative role of the Chief Justice of India in Article 124 of the Constitution was radically transformed through a pragmatic interpretation of that provision. How did this happen?


125. In the Second Judges case certain norms were laid down by Justice Verma in the matter of appointment of judges. These norms were: For the appointment of judges in the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice of India must ascertain the views of the two senior-most judges of the Supreme Court and of the senior-most judge in the Supreme Court from the High Court of the candidate concerned. Through this process, the individual opinion of the Chief Justice of India was substituted by the collective opinion of several judges. In this sense the opinion of the Chief Justice of India in the consultative process was made broad-based and ceased to be individualized. At this stage it is worth recalling the words of Dr. Ambedkar that ‘the Chief Justice, despite his eminence, had all the failings, sentiments and prejudices of common people.’ The apprehension or fear that Dr. Ambedkar had in this regard in case the Chief Justice of India were to act in an individual or personal capacity was now buried.[321] A somewhat similar norm was laid down for consultation for the appointment of a judge of the High Court. This is what was said:


“This opinion has to be formed in a pragmatic manner and past practice based on convention is a safe guide. In matters relating to appointments in the Supreme Court, the opinion given by the Chief Justice of India in the consultative process has to be formed taking into account the views of the two seniormost Judges of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice of India is also expected to ascertain the views of the senior-most Judge of the Supreme Court whose opinion is likely to be significant in adjudging the suitability of the candidate, by reason of the fact that he has come from the same High Court, or otherwise. Article 124(2) is an indication that ascertainment of the views of some other Judges of the Supreme Court is requisite. The object underlying Article 124(2) is achieved in this manner as the Chief Justice of India consults them for the formation of his opinion. This provision in Article 124(2) is the basis for the existing convention which requires the Chief Justice of India to consult some Judges of the Supreme Court before making his recommendation. This ensures that the opinion of the Chief Justice of India is not merely his individual opinion, but an opinion formed collectively by a body of men at the apex level in the judiciary.


In matters relating to appointments in the High Courts, the Chief Justice of India is expected to take into account the views of his colleagues in the Supreme Court who are likely to be conversant with the affairs of the concerned High Court. The Chief Justice of India may also ascertain the views of one or more senior Judges of that High Court whose opinion, according to the Chief Justice of India, is likely to be significant in the formation of his opinion. The opinion of the Chief Justice of the High Court would be entitled to the greatest weight, and the opinion of the other functionaries involved must be given due weight, in the formation of the opinion of the Chief Justice of India. The opinion of the Chief Justice of the High Court must be formed after ascertaining the views of at least the two seniormost Judges of the High Court.”[322]


126. The importance of the role of the Chief Justice of India was acknowledged in that it was observed that the constitutional convention was that no appointment should be made by the President under Article 124(2) and Article 217(1) of the Constitution unless it was in conformity with the final opinion of the Chief Justice of India. It was said: “The opinion of the Chief Justice of India, for the purpose of Articles 124(2) and 217(1), so given, has primacy in the matter of all appointments; and no appointment can be made by the President under these provisions to the Supreme Court and the High Courts, unless it is in conformity with the final opinion of the Chief Justice of India, formed in the manner indicated.”[323]


127. The ‘manner indicated’ was that if a recommendation is returned by the executive (for cogent reasons) to the Chief Justice of India and the Chief Justice of India reiterates the recommendation with the unanimous agreement of the judges earlier consulted, then the appointment should be made ‘as a matter of healthy convention’. This is what was said in this context:


“Non-appointment of anyone recommended, on the ground of unsuitability, must be for good reasons, disclosed to the Chief Justice of India to enable him to reconsider and withdraw his recommendation on those considerations. If the Chief Justice of India does not find it necessary to withdraw his recommendation even thereafter, but the other Judges of the Supreme Court who have been consulted in the matter are of the view that it ought to be withdrawn, the non-appointment of that person, for reasons to be recorded, may be permissible in the public interest. If the non-appointment in a rare case, on this ground, turns out to be a mistake, that mistake in the ultimate public interest is less harmful than a wrong appointment. However, if after due consideration of the reasons disclosed to the Chief Justice of India, that recommendation is reiterated by the Chief Justice of India with the unanimous agreement of the Judges of the Supreme Court consulted in the matter, with reasons for not withdrawing the recommendation, then that appointment as a matter of healthy convention ought to be made.”[324]


128. The norms took the form of conclusions that became binding on the Judiciary and the Executive. It is not necessary to reproduce the conclusions arrived at.


129. An important aspect of the appointment process, which was adverted to by Justice Verma, is the constitutional convention that the recommendation must be initiated by and must originate from the Chief Justice of the High Court (for appointment to the High Court) and from the Chief Justice of India (for appointment to the Supreme Court). In the event the Chief Minister of a State recommends a person for appointment as a judge of the High Court, it must be routed only through the Chief Justice of the High Court. It is then for the said Chief Justice to consult his colleagues (and others, if necessary) and decide whether or not the person should be formally recommended. If the Chief Justice of the High Court recommends that person, the procedure as mentioned in the Second Judges case would thereafter follow. If the Chief Justice of the High Court decides not to recommend that person for appointment, the matter stands closed and, therefore, the question of making an appointment without the consent of the Chief Justice of India simply does not and cannot arise. It is this constitutionally and conventionally accepted procedure, which is apparently not acceptable to the political executive, that has led to the political executive by-passing the Chief Justice of a High Court and directly recommending to the Union Government a person for appointment as a judge of the High Court. Be that as it may, the majority view expressed in the Second Judges case restored the constitutional position envisaged by Dr. Ambedkar by diluting the individual authority of the Chief Justice of India and conferring it on a collegium of judges, which is perhaps in consonance with the views of Dr. Ambedkar.


130. According to the learned Attorney-General, these conclusions turned Article 124(2) and Article 217(1) of the Constitution ‘on their head’ and even Justice Verma, the author of the judgment felt that the decision required a rethink. The reference was to an interview given by Justice Verma post his retirement. In that, it was said by Justice Verma: “My 1993 judgment which holds the field, was very much misunderstood and misused. It was in that context that I said the working of the judgment now for some time is raising serious questions, which cannot be called unreasonable. Therefore some kind of rethink is required.”[325]


131. It appears that the misunderstanding of the decision in the Second Judges case continues even today, especially by the political executive. The misunderstanding is not due to any lack of clarity in the decision rendered by this Court but due to the discomfort in the ‘working of the judgment’. I say this because it was submitted by the learned Attorney- General and learned counsel for some States that the Second Judges case left the executive with no role (or no effective role) to play in the appointment of a judge of the Supreme Court or the High Court particularly since the opinion of the executive is now rendered meaningless. Nothing can be further from the truth. The executive continues to have a vital role to play and in some cases, the final say in the appointment of a judge – the misunderstanding of the judgment is due to the completely and regrettably defeatist attitude of the Union of India and the States or their view that in the matter of appointment of judges, it is their way or the highway. The Constitution of India is a sacred document and not a Rubik’s cube that can be manipulated and maneuvered by the political executive any which way only to suit its immediate needs.


132. In an article found on the website of the Tamil Nadu State Judicial Academy, Justice Verma adverted to the appointment process in the Second Judges case and the role of the executive and said:


“The clear language of the decision leaves no room for any doubt that the executive has a participatory role in these appointments; the opinion of the executive is weightier in the area of antecedents and personal character and conduct of the candidate; the power of non-appointment on this ground is expressly with the executive, notwithstanding the recommendation of the CJI; and that doubtful antecedents etc. are alone sufficient for non-appointment by the executive. The decision also holds that the opinion of the judicial collegium, if not unanimous does not bind the executive to make the appointment.


Some reported instances in the recent past of the executive failing to perform its duty by exercise of this power even when the recommendation of the judicial collegium was not unanimous and the then President of India had returned it for reconsideration, are not only inexplicable but also a misapplication of the decision, which the CJI, Balakrishnan rightly says is binding during its validity. Such instances only prove the prophecy of Dr. Rajendra Prasad that the Constitution will be as good as the people who work it. Have any system you like, its worth and efficacy will depend on the worth of the people who work it! It is, therefore, the working of the system that must be monitored to ensure transparency and accountability.”[326] A little later in the article Justice Verma says (and this is also adverted to in the interview referred to by the learned Attorney-General): “The recent aberrations are in the application of the Second Judge’s case in making the appointments, and not because of it. This is what I had pointed out in my letter of 5 December 2005 to CJI, Y.K.Sabharwal with copy to the two senior most judges, who included the present CJI, K.G.Balakrishnan.”


133. The misunderstanding is, therefore, of the political executive and no one else. However, as pointed out by the learned Attorney-General, the merits or demerits of the Second Judges case is not in issue after the 99th Constitution Amendment Act and therefore no further comment is made, although it must be said, quite categorically, that the political executive has completely misunderstood the scope and impact of the Second Judges case and the working of the collegium system.


5 Third Judges case – 28.10.1998


134. Special Reference No. 1 of 1998 is commonly referred to as the Third Judges case. The President sought the advisory opinion of this Court under Article 143 of the Constitution on the following, amongst other, questions: “(1) whether the expression ‘consultation with the Chief Justice of India’ in Articles 217(1) and 222(1) requires consultation with a plurality of Judges in the formation of the opinion of the Chief Justice of India or does the sole individual opinion of the Chief Justice of India constitute consultation within the meaning of the said articles. (3) whether Article 124(2) as interpreted in the said judgment [Second Judges case] requires the Chief Justice of India to consult only the two seniormost Judges or whether there should be wider consultation according to past practice.


(4) whether the Chief Justice of India is entitled to act solely in his individual capacity, without consultation with other Judges of the Supreme Court in respect of all materials and information conveyed by the Government of India for non-appointment of a Judge recommended for appointment;”


135. At the outset, it must be noted that the learned Attorney-General stated at the hearing of the Presidential Reference that the Central Government was neither seeking a review nor a reconsideration of the Second Judges case. Therefore, the answers to the Presidential Reference do not depart from the conclusions arrived at by this Court in the Second Judges case. In that sense, this opinion did not take the substantive discussion much further though it substantially resolved some procedural issues and filled in the gaps relating to the process of appointment of judges to the superior judiciary. In any event, the answers to the three questions mentioned above are:


“1. The expression “consultation with the Chief Justice of India” in Articles 217(1) and 222(1) of the Constitution of India requires consultation with a plurality of Judges in the formation of the opinion of the Chief Justice of India. The sole individual opinion of the Chief Justice of India does not constitute “consultation” within the meaning of the said articles.


3. The Chief Justice of India must make a recommendation to appoint a Judge of the Supreme Court and to transfer a Chief Justice or puisne Judge of a High Court in consultation with the four seniormost puisne Judges of the Supreme Court. Insofar as an appointment to the High Court is concerned, the recommendation must be made in consultation with the two seniormost puisne Judges of the Supreme Court.


4. The Chief Justice of India is not entitled to act solely in his individual capacity, without consultation with other Judges of the Supreme Court, in respect of materials and information conveyed by the Government of India for non-appointment of a Judge recommended for appointment.”[327]


136. The decision in the Second Judges case read with the opinion given by this Court to the various questions raised in the Presidential Reference or the Third Judges case fully settled the controversies surrounding the procedure to be adopted in the appointment of judges to the superior judiciary. Issues of primacy of views and consultation with the Chief Justice of India were all answered by the decision and the opinion.


137. It is important to note that the Third Judges case modified one important norm or conclusion of the Second Judges case. The modification was that the ‘collegium’ for appointment of judges in the Supreme Court was expanded to consist of the Chief Justice of India and four senior-most judges rather than the two senior-most judges as concluded in the Second Judges case. In this manner, the consultation with the Chief Justice of India was further broad-based. It was clarified in conclusion 9 as follows: “9. Recommendations made by the Chief Justice of India without complying with the norms and requirements of the consultation process, as aforestated, are not binding upon the Government of India.” This conclusion is important, but seems to have been ignored or overlooked by the President.


6 Samsher Singh’s case 8 138. For a complete picture of the judicial pronouncements on the subject, it is also necessary to refer to the decision rendered by this Court in Samsher Singh v. State of Punjab.[328]


139. This case related to the termination of the services of two officers of the subordinate judicial service by the Governor of the State. The issue was whether the Governor could exercise his discretion in the matter personally or should act on the advice of the Council of Ministers. The judicial officers contended that the Governor was obliged to exercise his personal discretion and reliance was placed on Sardari Lal v. Union of India[329] in which it was held that for invoking the ‘pleasure doctrine’ under Article 311(2) of the Constitution, the personal satisfaction of the President is necessary for dispensing with an inquiry under clause (c) of the proviso to Article 311(2) of the Constitution. On the other hand, the State contended that the Governor was obliged to act only on the advice of the Council of Ministers.


140. This Court speaking through Chief Justice A.N. Ray (for himself and four other learned judges) overruled Sardari Lal and held that the decision did not correctly state the law. It was held that under the Rules of Business, the decision of the concerned Minister or officer is the decision of the President or the Governor as the case may be. It was then concluded: “For the foregoing reasons we hold that the President or the Governor acts on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head in the case of the Union and the Chief Minister at the head in the case of State in all matters which vests in the Executive whether those functions are executive or legislative in character. Neither the President nor the Governor is to exercise the executive functions personally. The present appeals concern the appointment of persons other than District Judges to the Judicial Services of the State which is to be made by the Governor as contemplated in Article 234 of the Constitution after consultation with the State Public Service Commission and the High Court. Appointment or dismissal or removal of persons belonging to the Judicial Service of the State is not a personal function but is an executive function of the Governor exercised in accordance with the rules in that behalf under the Constitution.”[330]


141. In a separate but concurring judgment authored by Justice Krishna Iyer (for himself and Justice Bhagwati) the view expressed by Chief Justice Ray was accepted in the following words:


“We declare the law of this branch of our Constitution to be that the President and Governor, custodians of all executive and other powers under various articles shall, by virtue of these provisions, exercise their formal constitutional powers only upon and in accordance with the advice of their Ministers save in a few well-known exceptional situations. Without being dogmatic or exhaustive, these situations relate to (a) the choice of Prime Minister (Chief Minister), restricted though this choice is by the paramount consideration that he should command a majority in the House; (b) the dismissal of a Government which has lost its majority in the House, but refuses to quit office; (c) the dissolution of the House where an appeal to the country is necessitous, although in this area the head of State should avoid getting involved in politics and must be advised by his Prime Minister (Chief Minister) who will eventually take the responsibility for the step.”[331]


142. An additional reason was given by the two learned judges for coming to this conclusion and that is also important for our present purposes. The additional reason relates to the independence of the judiciary. For this, reference was made to Jyoti Prokash Mitter v. Chief Justice, Calcutta.[332] The question in that case related to the determination of the age of a sitting judge of the High Court under Article 217(3) of the Constitution.[333] This Court held that the age determination should be by the President uninfluenced by the views of the executive. This was on the ground that were the executive to make the determination of the age of a sitting judge, it would ‘seriously affect the independence of the Judiciary.’ This view was subsequently reiterated in Union of India v. Jyoti Prokash Mitter.[334]


143. The learned judges then held, on the basis of the scheme of the Constitution t