The Supreme Court (SC) Collegium sprung a surprise on Thursday when new documents were uploaded under the ‘Collegium Resolutions’ tab. While it released a series of recommendations, the individual document was simply designated as a 'Statement’. It merely lists the Collegium decisions on appointments and transfer of judges. Not only is this a departure from the earlier format of uploading full-fledged resolutions listing reasons for the decisions, but also the names of the judges taking part in the Collegium meeting have been left out.
The push for transparency commenced in October 2017, when the SC Collegium decided to put its recommendations on judicial appointments, transfers and elevations in the public domain. Previously, only the official orders of appointment were available on the Department of Law and Justice website. The first such case was when the SC posted detailed reasons for its October 3, 2017 recommendations for judicial appointments to the Madras High Court (HC) and the Kerala HC. In its note titled ‘Transparency in Collegium system’, Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph stated that this decision was aimed at ensuring transparency and maintaining confidentiality at the same time.
The note read, “The decisions henceforth taken by the Collegium indicating the reasons shall be put on the website of the Supreme Court, when the recommendation(s) is/are sent to the Government of India, with regard to the cases relating to initial elevation to the High Court Bench, confirmation as permanent judge(s) of the High Court, elevation to the post of Chief Justice of High Court, transfer of High Court Chief Justices / Judges and elevation to the Supreme Court, because on each occasion the material which is considered by the Collegium is different.”
The latest instance when even the present format of Collegium resolutions was deemed to have shortcomings was the case of Justice Vijaya Tahilramani. The senior-most judge among all the current HC judges and Chief Justices in the country, she was functioning as the Chief Justice of the Madras HC. On August 28, 2019, the SC Collegium recommended her transfer to the Meghalaya HC "in the interest of better administration of justice". Simultaneously, they called for the transfer of Justice AK Mittal, Chief Justice of the Meghalaya HC to the Madras HC.
This virtual swap led to a lot of speculation among the legal fraternity in the country, some of whom demanded to know more about the rationale behind the decision. Subsequently, the Secretary-General of the SC issued a statement on September 12 in defence of the Collegium. According to him, it was done for "cogent reasons" and there would be no hesitation on the part of the Collegium to disclose them in the public domain. Therefore, the SC’s latest move stands in contrast to its own commitments in the past.