The collegiums of the Supreme Court had to compromise on its independence when the Union Government refused to oblige and elevate Justice Kureshi either as Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court or the judge of the Supreme Court. The list of nine judges who have been promoted to Supreme Court does not contain the name of Justice Ali Kureshi. He eminently deserves to be elevated before his retirement as high court Chief Justice. The absence of his name reeks of bias on the part of the Government. The story of his problems starts in Gujarat High Court. Justice Kureshi was the senior most judge who should have been made acting chief justice of Gujarat High Court when Justice Subhash Reddy was elevated to the Supreme Court. But he was transferred to Bombay High Court where he became the fifth senior most judge. Gujarat High Court Advocates Association was extremely critical of the transfer since it said Justice Kureshi is known for his impeccable integrity and capability. His transfer was described as something unwarranted.
The Supreme Court collegium recommended in May 2019 the elevation of Kureshi as Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court. Along with Justice Kureshi, the collegium recommended the elevation of Justice DN Patel as CJ of Delhi HC, K. Ramasubramanian as CJ of Himachal Pradesh HC and R.S. Chauhan as CJ of Telangana HC. All the three names were accepted by the union government except that of Justice Kureshi. The bias was very clear and evident.
The Gujarat HC Advocates Association had filed a petition in Supreme Court requesting it to direct the Union Government to act on collegium’s recommendation to elevate Justice Kureshi. Senior SC advocates such as Fali S Nariman, Dushyant Dave, Arvind Datar did appear for Gujarat High Court Advocates Association (GHCAA). But the Union Government refused to budge and kept quiet without citing any reason. The SC collegium had recommended Justice Kureshi’s name for elevation as CJ of a smaller court Tripura High Court instead of MP HC. This is a clear case of compromise. It should have asked the Government to state the reason for not approving the recommendation of the collegiums in the case of Justice Kureshi. Tripura HC has only four judges as against 53 judges in MP HC. This was in September 2019. This time the recommendation was accepted and Justice Kureshi was elevated as Chief Justice of Tripura HC.
Reasons for the Union Government’s refusal to honour the recommendations of the collegiums were not revealed. But they could be guessed. In 2010, Justice Kureshi remanded Amit Shah, who is now Union Home Minister and then the Home Minister of Gujarat, for two days for police custody in connection with the encounter killing of Shohrabuddin. The Justice also upheld the appointment of Justice (rtd) RK Mehta as Lokayukt, which was seen as a decision that went against the government headed by Narendra Modi. Then in 2016 Maya Kodnani’s case came up. She was a minister in Modi government. But she was made an accused in Naroda Patiya massacre case. In 2018, Justice Kureshi upheld the conviction of the accused in Oad riot case in which 23 persons including women and children were burnt alive by a mob.
In the latest list of judges to be elevated to SC, the collegium mentioned Justice Kureshi’s name in the second place. But the Union Government had approved all the names except that of Justice Kureshi. No one reveals the reasons for the Union Government’s disinterest in Justice Kureshi, but one who knows his background, the decisions he made and judgments he gave as judge of Gujarat High Court, could easily surmise and conclude that it is sheer bias on the part of the Union Government that is responsible for not implementing the SC collegium’s recommendation only in the case of Justice Kureshi.