The Delhi High Court observed that it had no reason to doubt the Supreme Court when it said that it did not adopt any resolution on December 12, 2018, and backed the Central Information Commission (CIC) claim that there was no material to disclose.
Justice Yashwant Varma observed that the CIC had rightly taken the position that in the absence of a formal resolution adopted and signed by the members of top court collegium, there was no material to disclose.
The high court dismissed a plea filed by activist Anjali Bharadwaj who sought details of the Supreme Court collegium's December 12, 2018 meeting which was never made public, where Chief Justices Pradeep Nandrajog and Rajendra Menon were purportedly recommended for elevation to the Supreme Court.
"It would appear that since the issues which arose for discussion remained unresolved or at least in an inchoate state, no formal resolution came to be drawn up," Justice Yashwant Varma observed. Justice Varma relied on the January 10, 2019 resolution which referred to "those very agenda items" and which also specifically recorded that "although certain decisions were taken", the same decisions were re-evaluated after additional material became available.
"The Court finds no ground to doubt the disclosure made that no resolution was drawn. At least no cogent material has been placed on the record which may convince the Court to take a contrary view," the high court's brief four-page order read.
Bharadwaj was appealing against the CIC's order rejecting her RTI application seeking details of the December 2018 collegium meet which was headed by then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
According to an October 3, 2017, resolution of the Supreme Court collegium, all decisions taken with respect to the recommendation of judges to the higher judiciary or their transfer would be made public.
What happened in the December 2018 collegium meet?
According to several news reports, the Supreme Court collegium in its December 12, 2018 meeting led by then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi recommended the elevation of Chief Justices Pradeep Nandrajog and Rajendra Menon to the top court. However, the details of this collegium meet was never made public.
The Supreme Court collegium—which is headed by the Chief Justice of India and comprises the four senior-most judges of the top court—makes recommendations to the Centre regarding appointments, transfer, and elevation of judges to the higher judiciary. A high court collegium—similar to the top court collegium—sends a list of candidates to the Supreme Court for their consideration.
On January 10, 2019, the top court collegium uploaded a resolution on the Supreme Court's website recommending Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Sanjiv Khanna for elevation to the top court. There was no mention of Chief Justices Nandrajog and Menon.
"The then Collegium on 12th December 2018 took certain decisions. However, the required consultation could not be undertaken and completed as the winter vacation of the Court intervened. By the time the Court re-opened, the composition of the Collegium underwent a change. After extensive deliberations on 5th/6th January, 2019, the newly constituted Collegium deemed it appropriate to have a fresh look at the matter and also to consider the proposals in the light of the additional material that became available. (emphasis supplied)," the collegium's January 10 2019 resolution read.
The newly constituted collegium did not include Justice Madan Lokur who had retired in December 2018, and now included Justice Arun Mishra.
Why the controversy?
Justice Madan Lokur, who had retired as a Supreme Court judge in December 2018 had in a January 23, 2019 interview with The Economic Times, expressed his disappointment that the December 2018 collegium (of which he was then a part) resolution was never uploaded on the Supreme Court's website.
Supreme Court judge Sanjay Kisan Kaul had also written to the top court collegium asking them to reconsider the collegium's U-turn since Chief Justices Pradeep Nandrajog and Rajendra Menon was senior to Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Sanjiv Khanna who was eventually elevated to the top court.
Anjali Bharadwaj on January 26, 2019, had filed an RTI application seeking details of this December 2018 collegium meet which was rejected on March 11.
"However, while disposing of the appeal against the denial by the CPIO, the FAA held that in view of the Subsequent Collegium resolution dated 10.01.2019, it was clear that though certain decisions were taken in the Collegium meeting of 12.12.2018, the required consultations could not be completed therefore no resolution was formally passed, and hence information asked for could not be supplied to the Petitioner," Bharadwaj's petition stated.
On December 16, 2021, Bharadwaj's second appeal was also denied on the same grounds.
Editor's Note: The story has been updated to reflect the Delhi High Court's detailed order.
Updated On: 2022-03-30T16:07:33+05:30