No justice for Madras HC Chief Justice

President Ram Nath Kovind presents the LL.D. (Honoris Causa) to Justice VK Tahilramani at a special convocation ceremony at Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University, in Chennai, Saturday. PTI

The decision of Madras High Court Chief Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani to put in her papers has raised uncomfortable questions about the transfers, postings and elevation of judges of the high courts. Justice Tahilramani perhaps had no option but to resign because her transfer to a less important court amounted to punishment and humiliation which she considered she did not deserve. The Supreme Court collegium which makes recommendations to the government on transfers and appointments in the higher judiciary, shifted Justice Tahilrmani from the Madras high court, which is among the oldest and biggest high courts in the country with a sanctioned strength of 75 judges, to the smallest high court with just three judges. Tahilramani is also the senior-most high court judge and one of the two women chief justices. She has an impeccable and distinguished record of service, and if there is a valid reason for the transfer that is not known. 

Tahilramani’s request for a reconsideration of the decision was rejected by the collegium. The decision has invited widespread criticism from the legal fraternity and others. Lawyers practising in the Madras high court have told the Supreme Court in a representation that such arbitrary transfers would impact the independence of the judiciary. The lawyers have also pointed out that the transfers of judges should have an element of fairness but they seemed to be lacking norms. The collegium’s decision also went against the spirit of the order of a constitution bench of the Supreme Court which said that the power of transfer is a highly dangerous power which involves hardship, injury and a stigma on the reputation of judge when it is not effected pursuant to a policy and done on a selective basis. 

Every transfer cannot be sought to be justified as a decision taken in the interest of administration. The decision should seem fair and reasonable too. The collegium has not been transparent in its decisions and some of its other recent decisions on transfers and promotions have created controversies. Two judges of the Supreme Court, Justice R Bhanumathi and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, have expressed unhappiness over the elevation of some high court chief justices ignoring norms like seniority. The transfer a Telangana high court judge has also attracted adverse comments. What is striking about Justice Tahilramani’s transfer is its drastic nature which suggests an intent of punishment. It is also particularly disturbing that mention is made, in the context of the transfer, of her May 2017 order upholding the conviction and imprisonment of 11 people for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and murder of her family in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

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