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We Weren't In The Loop, Says Law Minister On Justice Patel's Transfer

NEW DELHI:  Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today insulated the government from the raging controversy over the move to transfer the Karnataka High Court’s senior-most judge Jayant M Patel that led him to put in his papers this week. Justice Patel, who had ordered a CBI investigation in the 2004 Ishrat Jahan encounter case in Gujarat, told NDTV that he wanted to stay back in Bengaluru and quit when he got to know about his transfer.

The proposed transfer to Allahabad High Court a little over 10 months before his retirement would have denied Justice Patel his last chance to become a high court’s Chief Justice or Acting Chief Justice. Sources have told NDTV that this was the proverbial last straw. Justice Patel was already reported to have been upset that nine judges junior to him had already been elevated.

“I have no comments to offer (on Justice Patel’s transfer) except to say that no proposal of his transfer has been received by us,” Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters.

A senior official at the law ministry later added that they had not been consulted on Justice Patel’s transfer and they had a clear brief from the Prime Minister’s Office not to interfere in transfer of judges.

Judges are appointed and transferred on the recommendations of the Supreme Court’s Collegium, a panel of the court’s three top judges. Once the panel makes up its mind, it sends the recommendation to the government which usually accepts the court’s recommend.

In this case, Justice Patel put in his papers before the top court’s panel could formally make the recommendation.

Justice Patel has told NDTV that the Chief Justice of India had asked his comments on September 22 on my proposed transfer to Allahabad. “I was not keen to go to Allahabad… So I submitted by resignation on 25 September to the President of India,” he told NDTV on phone from Bengaluru yesterday.

Justice Patel declined to comment to a question if his November 2011 verdict to order a CBI probe into the Ishrat Jahan case had affected his elevation as Chief Justice of any high court.

But there has been support for Karnataka High Court judge Jayant M Patel.

Former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hedge told NDTV that if Justice Patel resigned because he was being superseded and the transfer was for reasons that were not legitimate – then he is perfectly justified in resigning.

“I quite understand because my father did exactly the same thing when he was superseded,” said the retired judge, the only one – according to the Karnataka High Court website – to have been directly elevated from the high court to the country’s Supreme Court.

Back in Gujarat High Court, from where Justice Patel had started his career as a lawyer and was first elevated to the High Court back in 2001, lawyers abstained from court appearances today.

Asim Pandya, president of the Gujarat High Court bar association, said this was to protest the decision to transfer Karnataka High Court’s senior-most judge, Jayant Patel to Allahabad High Court “for reasons best known to the government or the Collegium”.

Mr Patel’s decision to quit has also revived the debate around efforts to bring transparency in appointment of judges. The court had earlier struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission. “What we want is transparency in the collegium transfer system. We have also sought minutes of meeting of the collegium,” Mr Pandya said.

The Ishrat Jahan case pertains to 19-year-old college girl, her friend Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh along with two others being gunned down by crime branch officials in an alleged encounter on June 15, 2004 on the outskirts of the city.

The case is still pending before a trial court. Last week, the CBI told the court that there was enough evidence against PP Pandey, the retired police officer who had retired as Gujarat police chief.