Justice H L Dattu is set to become the next Chief Justice of India. Moving swiftly, the government on Monday cleared his appointment to the topmost judicial post, promptly clearing the file it received from Chief Justice of India R M Lodha on Friday.
Sources informed TOI that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has now forwarded the file relating to Justice Dattu’s appointment to the President for his approval. CJI Lodha retires on the 27th of this month after which Justice Dattu will have a tenure of more than a year till December 2015.
Justice Dattu will take over at a time when the Narendra Modi government has brought in the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill that does away with the collegium system of appointing judges. The bill, which has been passed by both houses of Parliament and is set to become a law once ratified by states, envisages that Chief Justice of India will head the NJAC. Besides him, the judiciary would be represented by two senior judges of the Supreme Court while two “eminent personalities” and the law minister will be the other members of the proposed body.
There is also a vigorous debate sparked off by former SC judge, Justice Markandey Katju, who questioned the system of appointing CJIs strictly on the basis of seniority instead of other criteria including merit. The outspoken judge, now the chairman of Press Council of India, in a blog last week pitched for appointment of CJI on the basis of merit and not on the basis of seniority, arguing that there is no Constitutional provision or statutory rule for the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court to be appointed as the CJI.
While Katju’s comments elicited a sharp response from All India Bar Association and other senior lawyers, the NJAC Bill itself lays down that NJAC shall recommend the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court for appointment as Chief Justice of India “provided he is considered fit to hold the office”.
Since October last year Justice Dattu is heading the bench that is monitoring investigations into the sensitive 2G spectrum scam. Earlier this year, CJI Sathasivam had nominated him as the SC nominee for the Lokpal process but it remained a non-starter with the previous government.
Justice Dattu joined the apex court as a judge in 2008. Born on December 13, 1950, he enrolled as an advocate in 1975 and began practising in Bangalore. He dealt in all types of matters, be it civil, criminal, tax or even Constitutional cases. From 1983 onwards he appeared in various capacities before the Karnataka High Court including as government pleader for sales tax department, standing counsel for Income Tax department and later as government advocate. After being designated as a senior standing counsel for I-T x department in 1995, Justice Dattu was elevated as a judge of the Karnataka High Court.
Justice Dattu also served as Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh high court for a few months in 2007 before he was transferred to Kerala HC. After two CJIs retiring in one year, Justice Dattu’s will be a relatively extended tenure. While Justice Sathasivam – now tipped to be appointed as a Governor – retired in April this year, CJI Lodha will be the second top judge.