NEW DELHI: Justice KM Joseph, the former Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court, took oath as a judge of the Supreme Court on Tuesday amid an ongoing row with the Centre over his seniority being lowered on his elevation.
Along with Justice Joseph, two other judges - Justice Kumari Indira Banerjee and Justice Vineet Saran – too took oath as the top court judges.
Justice Banerjee, who was the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, was the first to take oath out of three judges elevated to the Supreme Court.
Before his elevation to the Supreme Court, Justice Vineet Saran served as the Chief Justice of Orissa High Court and was the second to take the oath.
Highly placed sources had on Monday said that except Justice Ranjan Gogoi, a member of the apex court collegium who was on leave, the issue of Justice KM Joseph's seniority being lowered by the Centre was informally discussed by other judges.
However, it was decided that the matter would be taken up after the oath-taking ceremony.
On Friday last week, the Centre came out with the notification on the appointment of the three judges to the apex court but triggered a controversy by putting Justice KM Joseph at the number three.
In the notification, the names of Justice Indira Banerjee, Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, was at number one, followed by that of Justice Vineet Saran, Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court.
It is the convention that seniority of the judges is determined in accordance with the order of names notified by the government.
The warrants of appointment of the three judges were signed by the President on August 3. Justice Joseph's elevation to the apex court put an end to a protracted stand-off between the government and the judiciary.
Justice KM Joseph, the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court, headed a bench which had quashed the imposition of President's Rule in the state in 2016. Uttarakhand was then under the Congress rule.
The collegium had on January 10 recommended the name of Justice Joseph, along with that of senior advocate Indu Malhotra, for elevation to the apex court.
However, the government had returned Justice Joseph's name for reconsideration and gone ahead with the appointment of Justice Indu Malhotra.
The collegium had on May 16 ''in-principle'' reiterated the decision to recommend Justice Joseph's name for elevation to the apex court. The recommendation was sent to the government in July and it was accepted.
Though the number of judges in the top court after the fresh appointments has gone up to 25, it is still short of six judges.
According to the collegium's January 10 resolution, when Justice Joseph's name was recommended for elevation, "he stands at Sl. No. 45 in the combined seniority of High Court Judges on the all-India basis."
According to the July 16 resolution of the collegium, Justice Banerjee stood at Sl. No. 4 and Justice Saran stood at Sl. No. 5 in the combined seniority of high court judges on the all-India basis.
Justice Joseph became a high court judge on October 14, 2004, and he was elevated as a chief justice of high court on July 31, 2014. He will retire on June 16, 2023, as an apex court judge.
Similarly, Justice Banerjee became a high court judge on February 5, 2002, and was made a chief justice of high court on April 5, 2017. She would retire on September 23, 2022.
Justice Saran became a high court judge on February 14, 2002, and was made a chief justice of the high court on February 26, 2016. He will retire as an apex court judge on May 10, 2022.
(With PTI inputs)