A meeting of the Supreme Court collegium headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi that met last week has proposed to swap two High Court Chief Justices.
The collegium has recommended AK Mittal, Chief Justice of the Meghalaya High Court to be transferred to the Madras High Court. This is clearly an advancement in Justice Mittal’s position as the Madras High Court is one of the oldest and the 4th largest high court in India in terms of judge strength. However, what is unusual is the collegium's move to shift Chief Justice of of the Madras High Court, Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani To Meghalaya. From being the CJ of a court that has a sanctioned strength of 75 judges, Justice Tahilramani will now head a High Court with just three judges.
The decision to move Tahilramani, who is one of the senior most judges and one among two women high court chief justices, has been a closely guarded secret, according to Telegraph that reported it first.
Justice Tahilramani was sworn in as the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court on August 12, 2018. She was transferred from the Bombay High Court where she served as acting Chief Justice three times between 2015 and 2017.
She has presided over many important and controversial cases. On May 4, 2017, she upheld the life imprisonment of 11 convicts in the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots. She also set aside the acquittal of seven persons in the case including 5 police officers and 2 doctors, convicting them under sections 201 (tampering of evidence) and 218 (not performing duties) of the Indian Penal Code.
There has been much speculation among lawyers in the Madras High Court about this unusual transfer. Though no one is sure of the exact reason, many told TNM that they were not aware of any complaints against the Chief Justice.
Collegium refuses to reconsider
After the collegium's decision on August 28, Justice VK Tahilramani had asked the judges to reconsider her proposal for transfer.
However, the Collegium has refused to reconsider its proposal and has said, "The Collegium has carefully gone through the aforesaid representation and taken into consideration all relevant factors. On reconsideration, the Collegium is of the considered view that it is not possible to accede to her request. The Collegium, accordingly, reiterated its recommendation dated August 28, 2019, for transfer of Justice V.K. Tahilramani to Meghalaya High Court."
The Meghalaya High Court has 3 judges, including the Chief Justice, and was only established in March 2013.