CJI Ranjan Gogoi writes to PM Modi for removal of Allahabad High Court judge

CJI Gogoi wrote to the Prime Minister a day after writing three letters to him seeking an increase in the strength of judges in the Supreme Court and raising the retirement age of high court judges to 65 years.

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to initiate a motion for removal of Allahabad High Court’s Justice SN Shukla, months after an in-house panel found him guilty of misconduct. The development comes a day after Gogoi wrote to the Prime Minister seeking an increase in the strength of judges in the Supreme Court and raising the retirement age of high court judges to 65 years.

“As the allegations against Justice Shukla were found by the committee to be so serious as to warrant the initiation of proceedings for his removal, he cannot be allowed to resume judicial work in any high court. In these circumstances, you are requested to consider further action,” Gogoi wrote to PM Modi.

In January 2018, a three-judge in-house committee, comprising Madras High Court Chief Justice Indira Banerjee, Sikkim High Court Chief Justice S K Agnihotri and Madhya Pradesh High Court’s Justice P K Jaiswal, had concluded there was sufficient substance in the allegations against Justice Shukla and that the aberrations were serious enough to call for initiation of proceedings for his removal.

Following the report, the then CJI Dipak Misra, in accordance with the relevant in-house procedure, had advised Justice Shukla to either resign or seek voluntary retirement forthwith.

But Shukla refused to do so. After this, Misra had asked the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court to withdraw judicial work from him with immediate effect.  Shukla, reportedly, went on a long leave after that. On March 23, in a  letter to Gogoi, Shukla had requested to him to discharge judicial work in the high court.

Justice Shukla, who was heading a division bench in the high court, had allegedly defied the categorical restraint orders passed by a CJI-led bench of the apex court last year to permit private colleges to admit students for the 2017-18 academic session.

Two complaints, including one from the advocate general of the state, was received by the CJI on September 1, 2017, and the then CJI had constituted an in-house committee. According to the inquiry committee report, Justice Shukla had “disgraced the values of judicial life, acted in a manner unbecoming of a judge”, lowered the “majesty, dignity and credibility of his office” and acted in breach of his oath of office.

When the CJI writes to the President and the prime minister for removal of a high court judge, the Rajya Sabha chairperson appoints a three-judge inquiry committee in consultation with the CJI under the provisions of the Judges (Enquiry) Act, 1968 to look into the allegations. The committee appointed by the Rajya Sabha chairperson would examine the evidence and records, and opine if the same formed the basis for whether or not removal motion be debated in the Upper House.

On Saturday, CJI Gogoi wrote to the PM: “I request you to kindly consider, on top priority, to augment the judge-strength in the SC appropriately so that it can function more efficiently and effectively as it will go a long way to attain the ultimate goal of rendering timely justice to the litigant public.” He also mentioned that 58,669 cases were pending in the top court and the number was only increasing. Due to paucity of judges, the required number of Constitution benches to decide important cases involving questions of law were not being formed, the CJI said.

In the second letter, Gogoi urged Modi to consider introducing a constitutional amendment to increase the retirement age of high court judges from 62 to 65 years. He listed a shortage of judges in high courts as one of the primary reasons for the “ever-growing” pendency.

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