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India's government accused of shaping top judiciary

Christian judge blocked because he won't 'toe a pro-Hindu ideological line'

India's government accused of shaping top judiciary

A view of India's Supreme Court building is seen in New Delhi on May 26, 2016. (Photo by Sajad Hussain/AFP)

Saji Thomas, Bhopal
India

May 14, 2018

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The collegium of India's Supreme Court has met to reconsider its recommendation to elevate a Christian judge to the top court amid allegations that the pro-Hindu federal government had rejected him for ideological reasons.

The collegium of judges met on May 11 to consider its January recommendation to elevate Chief Justice K.M. Joseph of Uttarakhand High Court to the Supreme Court, local reports said.

The federal government, run by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), rejected the recommendation on April 26 and asked the collegium to consider other names.

The collegium concluded that Joseph was "more deserving and suitable in all respects" than other eligible judges, according to local media.

"The government turned down the collegium recommendation as he is a Christian and may not toe the pro-Hindu ideological line," said Govind Yadav, a Supreme Court lawyer.

The government said Joseph was a junior judge who stood 42nd in India's rankings. It also suggested the collegium consider candidates from socially poor Dalit and indigenous groups as they have no representation in the top judiciary.

The government also said Joseph's appointment would cause regional imbalance as he hails from the same southern state of Kerala as another judge, Justice Kurian Joseph, who was already serving the top court. However, Kurian Joseph is due to retire this year.

"None of these arguments hold water," said Yadav. "There is no such law that a junior judge cannot be elevated."

The government "is taking revenge" on Joseph because he led bench judges to strike down the BJP-led federal government's decision to impose president's rule in Uttarakhand when the rival Congress party was in power.

The bold order humiliated the federal government and therefore it does not want him to be elevated to the top court, Yadav said.

"Then again, he is a Christian who may not follow pro-Hindu ideology. That further contributed to rejection of his name," he said.

Federal Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad dismissed Yadav's allegations and said the government has the right to seek reconsideration of collegium recommendations.

M.P. Raju, another Supreme Court advocate and Catholic, said the message was clear.

"The government has subtly made it clear to everyone that those who do not toe its line, be it in the judiciary or other public office, will have no space," he said.

"It is a message clear to everyone … there is no need to spell out everything in words."

The government decision had also divided the top judiciary, Raju told ucanews.com.

Senior Advocate Mohammed Ali, a lawyer in Madhya Pradesh High Court, said that if the collegium reaffirms its recommendation, the government will be forced to accept it and cannot stall Joseph's promotion.

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