The Law Ministry has approved the elevation of senior advocate Indu Malhotra to the post of a Supreme Court judge, thus paving way for her to become the first lady lawyer to be directly appointed as a judge in the apex court. Malhotra will take oath on Friday following the government's approval.
The Centre, however, decided to hold back its approval to the elevation of Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice KM Joseph, who was also recommended to get the promotion.
On January 10, the Supreme Court collegium – a group of five senior most judges – headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra had recommended the names of Malhotra and Justice Joseph.
The government’s move to block the promotion of Joseph was being linked with his 2016 verdict that struck down Centre’s order to impose President’s rule in Uttarakhand and allowed Harish Rawat-led Congress government to return to power.
In February, a month after the verdict, the Modi government had blocked another recommendation of the collegium to transfer Justice Joseph to Andhra Pradesh.
Reacting to the decision, the Opposition Congress attacked the Modi government and asked if it was above the law?
"Delighted that Indu Malhotra will be sworn in as Judge of the Supreme Court tomorrow. Disappointed that Justice KM Joseph's appointment is still on hold," senior Congress P Chidambaram said.
"As the law stands now, the recommendation of the SC collegium is final and binding in the appointment of judges. Is the Modi government above the law?" he asked.
The Centre and the Supreme Court have been in a tussle over the government’s reluctance to approve Joseph’s elevation.
However, if the Law Ministry returns Josheph’s file and Supreme Court sends his name again, it will become incumbent upon the government to approve his elevation to the post of a Supreme Court judge.
The Centre’s decision to clear Malhotra’s name and hold Joseph’s appointment came at a time when the senior Supreme Court judges wrote a letter to Chief Justice DipaK Misra asking him to protect the judiciary from "undue interference by the government."