Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna were sworn in on Friday as judges of the Supreme Court. They were administered oath by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi. This takes the number of sitting judges of the Supreme Court to 28, falling 3 short of the sanctioned strength of 31. With the Centre having received the collegium’s recommendations on 10 January, it cleared their names within 6 days.
The collegium’s recommendation for their elevation created controversy as Justice Khanna was 33rd in seniority of high court judges on an all-India basis and his elevation would amount to supersession of 32 other judges.
Justice Khanna is nephew of Justice H.R. Khanna, a former Supreme Court judge who was the sole dissenting voice in the A.D.M. Jabalpur vs Shukla case in 1976, in which he said fundamental rights cannot be curtailed during an Emergency.
Their names had been recommended by a collegium comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices A. K. Sikri, S. A. Bobde, N. V. Ramana and Arun Mishra.
An earlier collegium comprising Chief Justice Gogoi and Justices Madan B. Lokur, A. K. Sikri, S. A. Bobde and N. V. Ramana had recommended elevation of the Chief Justice of the Delhi high court Rajendra Menon and Justice Pradeep Nandrajog of the Delhi high court instead.
The collegium’s decision to elevate Justice Khanna was taken after it recalled its earlier recommendation of 12 December, 2018, wherein names of Chief Justice of the Delhi high court Menon and Justice Nandrajog were considered for elevation instead of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dinesh Maheshwari.
Supreme Court judge Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul had written to Chief Justice Gogoi against Khanna’s elevation ignoring the seniority of Justice Nandrajog.
On Wednesday, the Bar Council of India (BCI) asked the collegium to recall its decision of 10 January recommending the names of Justices Khanna and Maheshwari for elevation to the Supreme Court, superseding several other judges of various high courts.
“The recent decision of the Supreme Court collegium taken on 10 January recalling and reviewing the earlier recommendation of 12 December, 2018, is viewed by the bar and the common man as unjust and improper", the Bar Council had said.
It highlighted that the supersession of several senior judges and chief justices of the country cannot be tolerated by the people and that the revocation of the earlier decision recommending the names of Justices Nandrajog and Rajendra Menon would be viewed as “whimsical and arbitrary".
Delhi High Court judge Justice Kailash Gambhir also opposed the elevation and wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind questioning the collegium’s recommendation to elevate Justices Khanna and Maheshwari to the Supreme Court.
The letter called the decision by the collegium to be “appalling and outrageous" as it superseded as many as 32 judges, including several chief justices.