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Meghalaya CJ for Madras HC. Collegium sticks to decision
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Meghalaya CJ for Madras HC. Collegium sticks to decision

S.Murari

The collegium of the Supreme Court is understood to have decided to stick to its decision to transfer Madras High Court Chief Justice and one of the seniormost judges Vijaya Tahilramani to Meghalaya, the smallest high court, as Chief Justice. This is the first of its kind. Chief Justices of major courts like Madras, Bombay or Kolkatta are elevated to the Supreme Court.

Justice Ajay Kumar Mittal, who took Meghalaya CJ as recently as on May 28 this year, is set to take over as CJ of Madras High Court in the place of Justice Tahilramani. The Supreme Court collegium is believed to have rejected the request of Justice Tahilramani to reconsider the decision.

The decision was taken on Tuesday at the last meeting of the collegium of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana, Arun Kumar Misra and Rohinton Fali Nariman. The collegium, which took the decision on Justice Tahilramani at its previous meeting, was undecided on where to post Justice Mittal.

It has now decided to post him to Madras High Court in the place of Justice Tahilramani. Once the Centre accepts the recommendation of the collegium, a formal announcement will be made by the President of India. Justice Mittal, after 24 years law practice, was elevated to bench in January 2004 and he served as judge in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Now that the collegium has rejected her request to reconsider the decision, Justice Tahilramani will now have to accept the transfer to resign. On earlier occasions, superceded judges have resigned, including those from Madras High Court. The collegium system where appointments and transfers are made by five seniormost judges of the Supreme Court is intended to mainly insulate the higher judiciary from the executive and thereby ensure its independence.

Nevertheless eyebrows have been raised in legal circles over the virtual demotion of Justice Tahilramani. As acting Chief Justice of Bombay High Court, she sent to jail for life 11 in the Bilkis Bano gang rape case. It happened a few days after the Godhra carnage which saw Gujarat erupt in violence against Muslims.

The case came before Justice Tahilramani upon transfer its transfer from the Gujarat High Court to Bombay High Court. She not only awarded life to 11 accused, but also set aside the acquittal of seven others including doctors and policemen who tampered with evidence.

She delivered the judgment in May 2017 and she was transferred in August that year to Madras High Court as Chief Justice. Now she has been posted to Meghalaya, the smallest high court in the country with only three judges, including the CJ, whereas Madras High Court has a sanctioned strength of 75.