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Chief Justice attacks govt on SC judge appointment row

Breaking his silence on the controversy around former solicitor general Gopal Subramanium’s candidature for appointment as a Supreme Court judge, Chief Justice of India (CJI) R M Lodha on Tuesday criticised the Narendra Modi government for segregating Subramanium “unilaterally” without his “knowledge and consent”.

“The first thing I had taken objection to was the segregation of Gopal Subramanium’s file unilaterally by the executive. It is not proper,” Lodha said at a function to bid farewell to Justice B S Chauhan, a Supreme Court judge who retired on Tuesday.

Lodha’s remarks came days after Subramanium went public with his attack of the government and the reasons for the objection to his name being proposed as a Supreme Court judge. The statement of the CJI, who also said “I will be the first person to leave this chair if the judiciary’s independence is compromised”, caused quite a stir on Tuesday.

The government’s critique for dropping Subramanium’s name from a list of four recommended for appointment as Supreme Court judges by a collegium seems to have added credence to the case of the senior lawyer, who had subsequently withdrawn his consent to be a Supreme Court judge.

Subramanium had also said he felt “let down by the judiciary” because it failed to back him and assert itself, even as the government overruled the collegium’s recommendation.

The CJI on Tuesday also tried to put to rest the speculation that the new government, as evident from this incident, was likely to interfere with the functioning of the judiciary. “I promise 1.2 billion people of India that the independence of the judiciary will never be compromised,” he said.

Lodha also expressed disappointment over Subramanium going public with his grievances at a time when he was abroad.

Subramaniam had met the CJI on Saturday to explain why he had withdrawn his consent to be appointed as a judge. The CJI also revealed that he had attempted to dissuade Subramanium but the former solicitor general refused to reconsider his decision. “On June 29, when he wrote a letter reiterating his position, I was left with no choice but to recall the proposal (recommending Subramanium’s name for appointment as a Supreme Court judge),” Lodha said.

The Modi government had drawn attack from all quarters for attempting to tarnish the reputation of a senior lawyer and block his appointment on specious grounds.

Subramanium had also expressed anguish over “planted leaks in the media” of reports that the Intelligence Bureau and the Central Bureau of Investigation had deemed him unsuitable. In fact, in a no-holds-barred letter to the CJI, he had alleged he was being targeted for his upright and honest handling of the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, in which Modi’s close aide Amit Shah was booked.

While Subramanium’s file was returned to the collegium, asking it to reconsider its decision, the names of the other three judges – chief justices of the Calcutta and Odisha high courts Arun Mishra and Adarsh Kumar Goyal, respectively, and senior advocate Rohinton Nariman – were forwarded to the President for his approval.

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