Victoria Gowri sworn-in as Madras-HC judge, SC junks challenge petitions
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a plea seeking to prevent Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri (49) from taking oath as an additional Madras High Court judge. Refusing to entertain the writ petition, Justice Sanjiv Khanna said the challenge could be on the grounds of eligibility and not suitability. He said, "The courts shouldn't get into suitability, otherwise the whole process will become haywire."
Why does this story matter?
- The SC Collegium recommended Gowri's appointment to the Madras HC last month, triggering protests by a section of lawyers across Tamil Nadu.
- The flashpoint was her former association with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the national general secretary of its women's cell and allegations of hate speech against religious minorities.
- The Centre is reportedly accused of clearing Gowri's appointment due to her allegiance.
Quit BJP 3 months before taking charge: Gowri
The SC bench—comprising Justices Khanna and BR Gavai—denied the pleas to direct the collegium to reconsider its recommendation of Gowri. It said there were several instances when an additional judge wasn't elevated as permanent if their performance was unsatisfactory. Formerly an assistant solicitor general in Madurai, Gowri earlier said she quit the BJP three months before taking over this post in September 2020.
Issue not political leaning, but hate speech: Counsel
On the issue of Gowri's political affiliation, Justice Gavai said, "I also have a political background, I have been a judge for many years and my political background has not come in the way." Representing the petitioners, senior advocate Raju Ramachandran argued, "Political background is not the question at all. It is hate speech." Ramachandran said that she was unfit to take the oath.
Christian, Islamic groups are dangerous: Gowri
Lawyers from Madurai Bench endorsed her
Earlier, 21 bar members of the Madras HC wrote to President Droupadi Murmu and the SC Collegium to withdraw Gowri's recommendation. Contrasting the protesters, however, as many as 54 lawyers from the high court's Madurai Bench wrote to the collegium endorsing her appointment. Notably, until the oath-taking ceremony, Gowri was posted as an Assistant Solicitor General of India at the Madurai Bench.
SC quashed officer's appointment as judge in 1992
An assessment by the SC Collegium after two years will determine Gowri's elevation as a permanent judge. Interestingly, there is a precedent for this case; in 1992, the SC declared a state government officer ineligible to be appointed as an HC judge. During the hearing of the case, the Centre and Guwahati HC were restrained from administering the oath of office to the candidate.
Centre accused of partisanship
Contrary to the case of Gowri, the Centre has sidelined the SC Collegium's recommendation regarding the appointment of R John Sathyan to the Madras HC for over a year now. The collegium categorically mentioned Sathyan should be given precedence over the other recommended names. The Centre returned his name, citing two articles critical of PM Narendra Modi and the government he had shared online.