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NEW DELHI: Seniority is a sensitive content for high court (HC) judges, being the determinant of their occupation potentials, be it viable decision as ruler righteousness of a hc, rise to the Supreme Court and, for the fortunate ones, decision as emperor righteousness of India.

Though there have been many examples in the ago when HC judges were raised directly to the SC as judges without becoming emperor righteousnesses of HCs, the principle of seniority continues to be interacted with intense emotion.

a jury in the SC gets seniority from the moment he takes profanity. If more than one take profanity on the same day, the one who is expressed in first becomes the elder among them.

In case of righteousness Jasti Chelameswar, one of the first workmen in the conflict against CJI Dipak Misra on Friday, it was non-adherence to seniority in rise to the SC as a jury that stolen him of the possibility of becoming the CJI.

Justice Chelameswar was appointed as an HC judge on June 23, 1997, which was after the appointment of CJI Misra and his immediate predecessor Justice J S Khehar. Justice Misra was appointed as an HC judge on January 17, 1996 while Justice Khehar was appointed on February 8, 1999. But Justice Chelameswar became chief justice of Gauhati HC on May 3, 2007, much before Justice Khehar (November 29, 2009) and Justice Misra (December 23, 2009).

However, Justice Chelameswar's seniority advantage of more than two years over Justices Khehar and Misra was nullified by the then collegium, which appointed Justice Khehar as an SC judge on September 13, 2011, nearly a month before Justices Misra and Chelameswar took oath on October 10, 2011.

Fate again played a trick with Justice Chelameswar as he took oath after Justice Misra, the latter, thus, becoming senior to him.

If seniority had taken its course, Justice Chelameswar would have taken over CJI on January 4, 2017 after the retirement of then CJI T S Thakur; ie, before even Justice Khehar, who was succeeded by Justice Misra on August 28, 2017.

With the collegium, along with destiny, deciding otherwise, Justice Chelameswar has never refrained from articulating his gripe about the games played in the collegium as it selects people as judges of the SC and HCs. He had put this angst on record in his dissenting judgment as part of the five-judge bench, which by majority had quashed the NJAC which was meant to end collegium's monopoly in the appointment of judges of HCs and SC .

Quoting former SC judge Ruma Pal Justice Chelameswar had said that the collegium acted like a coterie, and that there was a barter system among member judges.

Seniority carries other benefits too, especially the privilege of appointing judges of the SC and HCs. The first three SC judges, including the CJI, get to select persons for appointment as judges of HCs. The privilege of appointing chief justices belongs to the five senior-most judges who comprise the collegium. The CJI-headed body also selects persons from among advocates, HC judges and HC CJs for appointment as SC judges. This earns the top five enormous respect among advocates and HC judges.


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