‘Short tenures’: Poll body had 15 CECs in 26 years, Supreme Court saw 22 CJIs in 24 years | India News

NEW DELHI: If appointment of as many as 15 chief election commissioners during the last 26 years was a “disturbing trend” capable of destroying the independence of the poll panel, then the Supreme Court must take a glance at the appointment of as many as 22 Chief Justice of India in the last 24 years, which contrasts with 28 CJIs appointed in 48 years since 1950 when the apex court came into existence.
Since 1998, the CJI-led collegium, also comprising the four most senior SC judges, has appointed 111 SC judges to the SC. From them, Justice R C Lahoti was the first to become CJI in 2004 and since then 15 more have reached the top judicial post. While recommending candidates names to the government for appointment as SC judge, the CJI and four most senior SC judges know what each one’s tenure in the SC would be and whether, and for what period, would he/she, if at all, become CJI.
Since 2000, there have been 22 CJIs, many whose tenures could be counted in days – Justice G B Patnaik (40 days), Justice S Rajendra Babu (30 days) and Justice U U Lalit (74 days). Others with short tenures were Justices Altamas Kabir and P Sathasivam (both little over nine months as CJI), J S Khehar (nearly eight months), and R M Lodha (five months). What did the CJI-led collegium think in selecting them as SC judges who would have short tenures as CJIs that would be insufficient to plan reforms in the judiciary, where pendency has doubled in the last two decades.
Interestingly, Justice Joseph led 5-judge bench on Tuesday observed, “appointment of members of the EC on the whims of executive violates the very foundation on which it was created, thus making the commission a branch of executive.” Will the presence of CJI in a selection panel for appointments of EC/CEC help merit and infuse transparency?
If that is so, why did a constitution bench of SC quash the National Judicial Appointment Commission, which was set up by a law unanimously enacted by Parliament? Even before NJAC, the working of the CJI-led collegium system had faced constant criticism for its opaqueness and nepotism. Distinguished woman SC judge, Ruma Pal, had said the collegium operates on “you scratch my back and I scratch yours” basis.
In the 2015 judgment quashing NJAC, SC had quoted Justice Pal as saying “Consensus within the collegium is sometimes resolved through a trade-off resulting in dubious appointments with disastrous consequences for the litigants and the credibility of the judicial system. Besides, institutional independence has also been compromised by growing sycophancy and lobbying within the system.” Justice J Chelameswar had approved NJAC in his dissent. Justice Kurian Joseph acknowledged the opaqueness charge and said, “… the Collegium system lacks transparency, accountability and objectivity.”

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