Four senior judges out soon, focus on Bombay HC’s next CJ

Apurva Vishwanath
Supreme Court Collegium, Collegium syetem, Bombay High Court, High Court judge retiring, judicial appointment, judge appointment, indian express

The question on whether Bombay High Court will have a chief from its own court or whether a transfer of another Chief Justice is on the cards is being discussed in legal circles.

With the four most senior judges of Bombay High Court either retiring, resigning or being transferred, the Supreme Court Collegium will have to appoint a new Chief Justice for the country’s second largest high court.

While the current Chief Justice of the High Court, Justice Pradeep Nandrajog, is set to retire this week, Justices S C Dharmadhikari, B P Dharmadhikari and R V More — the next three judges in seniority — are also set to move out.

The question on whether Bombay High Court will have a chief from its own court or whether a transfer of another Chief Justice is on the cards is being discussed in legal circles.

Bombay High Court has a sanctioned strength of 94 judges — 71 permanent judges and 23 additional judges — and at present has 72 judges. This number will be down to 68 by April-end.

Justice Satyaranjan C Dharmadhikari, who resigned last week, was the second most senior judge of Bombay HC. Although he maintained that he resigned for “personal reasons”, he clarified that it was due to his reluctance to move out of Mumbai — he was being considered for transfer to Orissa High Court as the Chief Justice.

Sources told The Indian Express that the SC Collegium had discussed the move with the judge.

The timing of Justice Dharmadhikari’s transfer to Orissa HC, close on the heels of Chief Justice Nandrajog’s retirement is crucial. While this was a promotion for Justice Dharmadhikari, it also made room for the Collegium to appoint a Chief Justice in Bombay HC who could be junior to him.

Justice Dharmadhikari is second in the all-India seniority list of HC judges as per initial appointment (the date on which appointment was made as additional judge). Justice Nandrajog tops the list and only one other judge — Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka, the current Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court, who ranks third in the seniority list — was appointed in 2003. Justice Oka’s parent High Court is also Bombay HC.

Appointed as an additional judge of Bombay High Court in November 2003, Justice Dharmadhikari was slated to retire in January 2022, when he would turn 62. If elevated to the Supreme Court before that, he would have had a tenure until 2025.

Explained

2nd Bombay HC judge to quit over transfer

Justice S C Dharmadhikari is the second judge from Bombay High Court to have resigned following differences with the Supreme Court Collegium over a transfer. Earlier, Justice VK Tahilramani, who was transferred from Bombay HC as Chief Justice of Madras High Court in 2018, had resigned in September 2019 after the Collegium refused to reconsider her transfer as Chief Justice of Meghalaya HC. Justice Dharmadhikari has also resigned in anticipation of a transfer.

Justice Dharmadhikari had in fact taken oath as an additional judge of Bombay High Court alongside Supreme Court judge Bhushan R Gavai on November 14, 2003. Justice Gavai was elevated to the Supreme Court in May 2019, and is set to retire as the Chief Justice of India on November 23, 2025.

At least 11 judges currently in the SC were appointed judges after 2003.

Bombay High Court’s third most senior judge, Justice Bhushan Pradyumna Dharmadhikari, was appointed an additional judge on March 15, 2004, and is set to retire on April 27. The High Court’s fourth most senior judge, Justice Ranjt Vasantraj More, was appointed additional judge in September 2006. He will retire in November 2021, unless elevated to the Supreme Court. If a chief justice from outside Bombay HC is considered for appointment, the judge cannot be junior to Justice More in order of seniority.

Although no transfer order has been issued yet, sources told The Indian Express that Justice More is likely to be considered for a transfer to Meghalaya High Court.

Bombay High Court is the second biggest high court in the country after Allahabad High Court, which has a sanctioned strength of 160 judges and is considered the hub of India’s economic litigation.