New Delhi: The government on Thursday rejected a recommendation by the Supreme Court collegium to elevate the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand high court K.M. Joseph as a judge of the apex court, marking a potential escalation of the conflict between the executive and the judiciary over the appointment of senior judges. The government, however, accepted the second recommendation by the collegium —made up of the chief justice and four senior-most judges —to promote senior advocate Indu Malhotra.

It gave several reasons for its move to return the recommendation on Joseph, the judge who had quashed President’s rule in Uttarakhand in 2016.

“The proposed appointment of Justice K.M. Joseph as a judge of the Supreme Court at this stage does not appear to be appropriate. It would also not be fair and justified to other more senior, suitable and deserving chief justices and senior puisne judges of various high courts," the government said in a letter to the collegium.

In the All-India high court judges’ seniority list, it pointed out, Joseph was placed at number 42.

Another reason cited was that the Kerala high court was already adequately represented in the apex court and other high courts. If he were to be elevated, he would join justice Kurian Joseph, an existing promotee from the Kerala high court. Non-representation of Scheduled Castes and Tribes in the Supreme Court was given as another reason.

Joseph was appointed a judge of the Kerala high court in 2004 and made chief justice of the Uttarakhand high court in 2014. As chief justice, he quashed the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government’s move to impose President’s rule in Uttarakhand in 2016, amid a political crisis triggered by a rebellion by legislators belonging to the ruling Congress party. Following this, the then collegium recommended his transfer to the high court of AP and Telangana.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the government was “well within its rights to reject the recommendations" and said the collegium would now deal with it. The collegium can either accept the government’s rejection or make its case once again for Joseph’s promotion.

The government, however, accepted the recommendation on Malhotra, who is expected to take oath as a Supreme Court judge on Friday. She will be the seventh woman judge of the apex court and the first woman lawyer to be directly elevated to the top court.

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