New Delhi: On February 4, senior Karnataka High Court lawyer Aditya Sondhi sent a two-page communication to Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, withdrawing his consent for appointment as judge of the Karnataka High Court.
The reason for doing so, mentioned clearly in the letter, was that even though over one year had passed since the Supreme Court Collegium (SCC) had on February 4, 2021 first recommended his name for elevation as judge of the Karnataka High Court – it was reiterated by the SCC on September 1, 2021, the Government had not processed his name.
However, over four months after the senior lawyer withdrew his consent, the SCC is yet to take a formal view on it. While the fact that Sondhi has withdrawn his consent is well-known in judicial circles, it remains unclear if the CJI has formally shared his February 4 letter with other members of the SCC.
Incidentally, in his letter, Sondhi had requested that his letter should be placed before the SCC. This, sources in the Supreme Court say, has caused a minor crisis-of-sorts.
“A year after the original recommendation, and five months after the reiteration by the Hon’ble Collegium, the impasse still continues. In the interregnum, the Government of India has chosen to make fresh appointments to the High Court of Karnataka in November 2021. In the circumstances it is no longer tenable for me to remain in consideration for elevation,” Sondhi’s letter reads.
For the record, six judges have been appointed to the Karnataka High Court since February 4, 2021 – the date Sondhi’s name was first cleared by the SCC. As a result, Sondhi, if appointed thereafter, would have been placed below them in all India seniority.
“When it is placed before the SCC, questions could be asked as to why the government has not processed the appointment even though the SCC reiterated its recommendation almost 10 months ago. Under the Memorandum of Procedure, once a name has been reiterated by the SCC, the Centre has no option but to process the same and issue the warrants of appointment. However, in many cases, including that of Sondhi, that has not happened,” the Supreme Court source cited above noted.
What will the Centre do?
Under the procedure, unless the CJI, after the SCC collegium has taken a decision to withdraw its recommendation, communicates to the Central government not to process the recommendation, the only option that the Centre possibly has is to await a formal communication from the CJI.
Asked if the Centre can unilateraly decide not to process the recommendation, the source replied in the negative.
“The decision has to be conveyed to the government by the CJI. I don’t think the Centre can on its own decide to ignore the recommendation,” the source said.