New Delhi, May 2 The Supreme Court collegium on Wednesday deferred its decision on Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K.M. Joseph, whose name for elevation to the top court was returned by the government last week for reconsideration even as the Centre maintained that the rejection had nothing to do with his judgment in quashing President's Rule in Uttarakhand last year.
A decision to reconsider the recommendation was deferred after the collegium comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and four other senior most judges - Justices Jasti Chelameshwar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph - met for about 45 minutes.
The Central government on April 26 sent back Justice Joseph's recommendation for reconsideration.
"The proposal for reconsideration of the case of K.M. Joseph has the approval of President and Prime Minister," said the letter that was sent to the Chief Justice by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Justice Chelameswar, who did not attend the court on Wednesday, however, came to attend the collegium meeting.
In a brief statement issued on Wednesday, the collegium, while recording that besides reconsidering the recommendation of Justice Joseph, it also met to also consider names of judges from other high courts for elevation to the Supreme Court.
The statement said that the decision was "deferred" and did not give the next date of the meeting of the collegium.
"Recording the agenda of the meeting: To reconsider the case of Justice K.M. Joseph, Chief Justice, Uttarakhand High Court, pursuant to letters dated 26th and 30th April, 2018 received from Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India and also to consider the names of Judges from Calcutta, Rajasthan, and Telangana and Andhra Pradesh High Courts for elevation as Judges of the Supreme Court, in view of the concept of fair representation", the statement said, ending with "Decision: Deferred".
After sitting over the collegium's recommendations for over three months, the Central government on April 26 cleared the name of senior lawyer Indu Malhotra (now judge) but returned the recommendation of Justice Joseph for reconsideration.
At a post cabinet briefing, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government decision to return the file of Justice Joseph had "nothing to do with his order quashing the President's Rule in Uttarakhand".
"I wish to deny with all authority at my command it has nothing to do with it (Justice Joseph's decision) at all for two obvious reasons. Firstly, a proper (BJP-led) government with nearly three-fourth majority has been elected in Uttarakhand. Secondly, that order was confirmed by Justice (J.S.) Khehar of the Supreme Court," the minister said in response to a media query.
The government decision to send back Justice Joseph's recommendation for reconsideration was met with sharp criticism by the former Chief Justices of the top court and others. They unanimously said that returning the recommendation of Justice Joseph was an attack on the independence of judiciary.
Indu Malhotra was sworn in as judge of the top court on April 27.
The top court collegium recommending the elevation of Justice Joseph had said: "The collegium considers that at present Justice K.M. Joseph, who hails from Kerala High Court and is currently functioning as Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, is more deserving and suitable in all respects than other Chief Justices and senior puisne Judges of High Courts for being appointed as Judges of the Supreme Court of India."
Justice Joseph's name for elevation to top court was recommended by the collegium at its January 10 meeting.
However, the Central government had said that he stood at number 42 in the seniority of High Court judges and there are 11 Chief Justices of different High Courts who are senior to him -- a clear suggestion that his elevation to the Supreme Court would be at their expense.
It had also raised the principle of proportionality contending that Kerala High Court was a "comparatively small High Court" with a sanctioned strength of 42 judges and was a parent High Court for the top court judge Justice Kurian Joseph, the Chief Justices of three High Courts -- Justice K.M. Joseph himself (Uttarakhand), Justice T.B. Radhakrishnan (Chhattisgarh) and Justice Antony Dominic (Kerala).
Though it had cleared the recommendation of Malhotra for appointment as top court judge, the Central government flagged the absence of SC/ST judges in the top judiciary while returning the recommendation of Justice Joseph for reconsideration.