J&K High Court may get 6 new judges in February
Selection process to fill up 8 vacancies of judges resuming after retirement of TS Thakur, MH Attar
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
JAMMU, Jan 5: With the appointment of Justice K.S. Khehar as the new Chief Justice of India, to be followed by retirement of Justice Muzaffar Hussain Attar in Jammu and Kashmir later this month, the stalled process of filling up eight vacancies of judges in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court (JKHC) is starting afresh any time from now.
Top judicial and bureaucratic circles insist that minimum of six new judges could be inducted in JKHC any time in the months of February or March. With the Chief Justice (N. Paul Vasanthakumar) and 9 judges being currently in place, JKHC has a shortfall of 7 judges which would further rise to 8 with the retirement of Justice Attar on January 30.
During Governor’s rule, in March 2015, Collegium of JKHC had initiated the process of the appointment of 6 judges while recommending a list of 9 individuals from the Bar and the higher judicial service. However, the boat hit rock after rock as Governor Narendra Nath Vohra reportedly complained that the names had been recommended without his knowledge, Mehbooba Mufti took over as Chief Minister in April and a confrontation between then CJI Tirath Singh Tkakur and the Union Government over the procedure of the appointment of judges froze the whole exercise.
After the appointment of 4 judges---Ali Mohammad Magrey, Dhiraj Singh Thakur, Tashi Rabstan and Janak Raj Kotwal---in March 2013, only three new judges have joined JKHC (Bawa Singh Walia in February 2015, Ramalingam Sudhakar in April 2016 and Alok Aradhe in September 2016) in the last about four years. Of the 10 incumbent judges, 8 are from the Bar and only 2 from the judicial service.
As the Union Ministry of Law and Justice returned the list for certain clarifications and explanations, the Mehbooba Mufti government is understood to have recommended the already submitted list. It was marked that the previous exercise had been carried out with the approval of then Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. However, ahead of the retirement of Justice Hasnain Massodi in 2016, the government in coordination with the Collegium is understood to have incorporated the names of the advocate Mohammad Yousuf Bhat and Principal District and Sessions Judge of Jammu Sanjay Gupta.
Those recommended initially included former Registrar General Kaneez Fatima, who was in beginning of last year functioning as a Member of J&K Sales Tax Tribunal and Registrar General Maharaj Krishen Hanjura. Both have retired from judicial service in 2016. Mr Hanjura was appointed as a Member in the Union Government’s Company Law Board. However, he quit that position upon his appointment as an appellate authority under the Food Safety and Standards Act. While as he was appointed as appellate authority in Jammu, Mohammad Yousuf Akhoon, who retired as Principal Secretary to Chief Justice in JKHC, was appointed as appellate authority in Kashmir.
With complaints and accusation pouring in as usual, Union Ministry of Law and Justice is understood to have dropped some names including one on “adverse report" from the Intelligence Bureau. If the sources are to be believed, Kashmir-based advocate Nisar Hussain Shah was taken out on account of having crossed age of 59 years and replaced by advocate Mohammad Yousuf Bhat. Jammu-based advocates Raj Kumar Gupta and Sanjeev Kumar Shukla are understood to have been taken out for being litigants in a matter, involving allotment of premises in Bahu Plaza, currently pending with JKHC.
With then CJI Justice Thakur reportedly having reservations vis-a-vis some names in the list, sources say that Kaneez Fatima and Sanjay Gupta were discussed from among the three judicial officers and Mir Syed Lateef, Gandarabh Singh Thakur and Mohammad Yousuf Bhat from the seven advocates in a meeting chaired by CJI in November 2016.
According to sources, retirement of the now 61-year-old Kaneez Fatima would not affect her prospects for appointment as High Court judge in view of the recent precedent of B. Gokuldas who was appointed as a judge of the Madras High Court in 2016, nearly a year after his retirement as a District judge in June 2015. He will serve at High Court for just a little over one year.
While as the District judges reach superannuation at completing 60 years of age, High Court judges retire upon 62 years. If no other issues, like integrity and security, hinder her appointment, Kaneez Fatima could create history in the State by becoming the first female judge in JKHC.