New Delhi: Chief Justice T.S. Thakur wrote to the government on Tuesday, recommending justice J.S. Khehar’s name for appointment as the next chief justice of India, according to PTI.

Thakur will demit office on 3 January 2017.

If the government accepts the recommendation, justice Khehar will be India’s 44th chief justice and also the first Sikh to occupy the office. He will hold the office for eight months from 4 January 2017 to 27 August 2017.

The chief justice’s recommendation assumes importance as doubts were raised that justice Khehar might be superseded by the government.

On 4 December, 11 lawyers, including Mathew Nedumpara and R.P Luthra from the National Lawyers’ Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms wrote to the government asking it to overlook justice Khehar’s seniority citing his verdict in the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) case. Justice Khehar wrote the majority ruling in the case.

“The government is bound by the recommendation but there have been instances in the past where the chief justice’s recommendation has been ignored. Given the tussle between the centre and judiciary on appointments, the government’s stance will be key," said Alok Prasanna, advocate and visiting fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.

In 1973, three senior-most judges were superseded for the appointment of justice A.N. Ray as chief justice. In 1974, justice M.H. Beg was appointed chief justice, superseding justice H.R. Khanna.

At present, there are seven vacancies in the top court which will have to be filled after Thakur’s successor takes office. Appointment of judges to the top court reverted to the collegium system since the apex court declared the NJAC Act, 2014,as unconstitutional and an infringement on judicial independence.

In October 2015, a five-judge constitution bench struck down the Constitution(Ninety-ninth Amendment) Act, 2014, and the NJAC Act that sought to give the executive a say in the appointment of top judges and restored the collegium system of making judicial appointments.

Under the collegium system, a group of five senior- most Supreme Court judges appoints other judges to the higher judiciary—the high courts and the Supreme Court.

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