Senior lawyer Indu Malhotra will be the first woman lawyer to be directly appointed as a Supreme Court judge.
The law ministry has okayed the recommendation of the Supreme Court’s collegium to appoint the senior lawyer to the bench but has decided to hold back its approval to the elevation of the Uttarakhand Chief Justice KM Joseph for now.
Indu Malhotra, who specialises in arbitration, is expected to take oath as a Supreme Court judge later this week.
A decade earlier, Ms Mahotra was the second woman lawyer to be appointed as senior advocate by the Supreme Court, three decades after the first, Justice Leila Seth, was designated.
Of the top court’s 24 judges, only one is a woman, Justice R Banumathi. She was elevated to the top court in August 2014. Justice Banumathi was the sixth woman to become a Supreme Court judge. Justice Fathima Beevi was the first in 1989.
The law ministry’s approval to Ms Malhotra’s name comes 14 weeks after a committee of the five senior-most judges headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra recommended Justice Joseph and Ms Malhotra’s name for the top court.
The government’s reluctance to process the file for the Uttarakhand Chief Justice is perceived to be linked to his verdict that cancelled President’s rule in Uttarakhand in 2016 and allowed the Harish Rawat to return to power.
A month after this verdict, Justice Joseph was recommended to be transferred to the bigger, joint high court for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana at Hyderabad but the centre held back its approval.
The centre’s decision to segregate the recommendation, clear one name and defer a formal decision on the other, is unusual and comes at a time Supreme Court judges have asked Chief Justice of India to take the necessary steps.
Justice Kurien Joseph had earlier this month written to the Chief Justice of India and other Supreme Court judges, flagging the delay in the appointment of the two judges. “History will not pardon us,” he wrote.
Just hours before the government decision to clear Ms Malhotra’s appointment, Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Madan Lokur – both members of the Supreme Court collegium asked Chief Justice Dipak Misra to call a “full court” of all judges to discuss “institutional issues and the future of the court”.
Last month, Justice Jasti Chelameswar had also written to the Chief Justice expressing grave concern over the law ministry writing directly to Karnataka High Court, despite the collegium reiterating a name for elevation to the high court.
Government sources have, however, insisted that the law ministry felt that the Supreme Court committee did go by the seniority of judges in recommending Justice KM Joseph.
It is being said Justice KM Joseph is 45 in the All India seniority of judges and there were other Chief Justices of high court who were entitled to be moved to the top court ahead of him.
The collegium, or the committee of judges had taken Justice Joseph’s seniority and merit into account. In its recommendation, it had explicitly noted that he was considered “more deserving and suitable in all respects than other Chief Justices” and senior judges of High Courts for being appointed as Judges of the Supreme Court of India.>