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Centre Averts Crisis in Punjab & Haryana HC, Appoints Acting Chief Justice in Late Night Move

With judicial appointments caught in a tussle between the Centre and Collegium recently, it was only after Chief Justice Shiavax Jal Vazfidar retired on May 3 that the government realised that the post of CJ would be vacant from the next day.

Debayan Roy | News18.com

Updated:May 4, 2018, 10:22 AM IST
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Centre Averts Crisis in Punjab & Haryana HC, Appoints Acting Chief Justice in Late Night Move
The High Court had directed Punjab University to conduct the B.Ed admissions examination for the candidates interested in exploring their career in the teaching field.
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New Delhi: It was on April 19 this year that the Collegium headed by Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra cleared Justice Krishna Murari as the next Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

But with judicial appointments caught in a tussle between the Centre and Collegium recently, it was only after Chief Justice Shiavax Jal Vazfidar retired on May 3 that the government realised that the post of Chief Justice would be vacant from May 4. It then appointed the senior-most judge of Punjab and Haryana HC, Justice AK Mittal, as the acting Chief Justice.

Since April 19, the government had issued no notifications on the appointment of the High Court's Chief Justice. Not appointing the ACJ would have led to a constitutional crisis as a High Court cannot function without a CJ or an ACJ.

The registry of the High Court too went into a tizzy with the Registrar addressing a letter late evening to the retiring Chief Justice Vazfidar, seeking directions on the functioning of the court and listing of the cases which were due to be listed in his court.

"No communication regarding the appointment of the Honorable Chief Justice or the Honorable acting Chief Justice with effect from May 4th, 2018, has been received today and it is already 7.30 PM," said the Registrar.

Further, he cited that all civil cases from May 4 were referred to the Division Bench of Chief Justice or Acting Chief Justice along with Justice Avneesh Jhingan. The CJ or ACJ is also expected to hear indirect tax matters and writ petitions relating to tender matters.

However, in a handwritten response to the Registrar's request, Justice Vazfidar stated that he "does not want to arrange the roster for the period after his retirement.

The retiring CJ stated that the Registrar "may seek orders from the senior most judge" of the HC, Justice AK Mittal, for the same.

Justice Mittal's name was also considered for elevation to head the Delhi High Court as its Chief Justice but was later withdrawn.

In June 2017, a Supreme Court Collegium headed by the then CJI, JS Khehar, had decided to appoint Mittal as CJ of the Delhi High Court.

But as the norm goes of consulting SC judges while appointing the Chief Justice of their parent HC, the consulted judges had expressed reservations against Justice Mittal’s elevation, stating that such a move would mean that Mittal superseding his senior brother-judge, Justice S.S. Saron.

Saron has since retired. But Justice Mittal's name was not forwarded by the Justice Khehar-led Collegium and no reason was has been given for that decision.

However, on January 10, this year, the CJI Dipak Misra-led Collegium cleared Justice Surya Kant of Punjab and Haryana HC as chief justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court.

Interestingly, the fact that Justice Mittal was senior to Justice Surya Kant did not become an impediment this time, unlike last time when his elevation to the Delhi HC had been dismissed without a concrete reason.

According to the minutes of the meeting, "relevant factors" were considered by the Collegium which led to the decision of not appointing Justice AK Mittal as the Chief Justice of HP High Court.

"It is deemed necessary to add here that while making the above recommendation, we have also considered the name of Justice A.K. Mittal, who hails from the same High Court as does Justice Surya Kant,” the note added.

“Though Justice A.K. Mittal is senior to Justice Surya Kant in the seniority of judges of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, having regard to all relevant factors and since we consider Justice Surya Kant more suitable than Justice A.K. Mittal, we are not recommending name of the latter, for the present, for appointment as Chief Justice," reads the Collegium resolution.

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