[dropcap]A[/dropcap]FTER more than a decade, the Supreme Court Collegium got its woman judge today with the induction of Justice R. Banumathi following the retirement of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi on November 17, 2019. Justice Banumathi is the fifth in seniority among the judges of the Supreme Court.
The last woman judge in the Collegium was Justice Ruma Pal who retired from office on June 2, 2006. She was appointed as judge of the apex court on January 28, 2000. She had been a member of the Collegium for about three years.
Justice Banumathi will have a tenure in the Collegium till July 19, 2020, when she will demit office on retirement.
The Collegium will now comprise of incumbent CJI S A Bobde, Justices N V Ramana, Arun Mishra, Rohinton F Nariman and R Banumathi.
The Collegium system for recommending to the government the names of judges for appointment to high courts, the Supreme Court as well as for the transfer of judges, was brought into existence by the Supreme Court through a judicial order in 1993.
In September, Justice R Banumathi, had written to the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and members of the Collegium to respect the seniority of judges when recommending them for appointment to the apex court. She had objected to the Collegium’s decision to appoint Himachal Pradesh High Court Chief Justice V Ramasubramanian to the Supreme Court, overlooking Manipur High Court Chief Justice Ramalingam Sudhakar, who the former’s senior.
Background of Justice Banumathi
Justice Banumathi practiced in the mofussil courts at Tirupattur, Krishnagiri and Harur, in Tamil Nadu. She entered the Tamil Nadu Higher Judicial Service as a direct recruit district judge in 1988 and worked as a district and sessions judge in various districts of the southern state.
She was elevated as a judge of the Madras High Court on April 3, 2003 and was appointed as the Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court on November 16, 2013. From there, she was elevated to the apex court on August 13, 2014.
She was part of the three-judge bench that confirmed the death sentence on the convicts in the Nirbhaya gang rape-cum-murder case.
More recently, she upheld the Delhi High Court’s order refusing anticipatory bail to former finance minister P Chidambaram in the INX media case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate. Later she granted regular bail to Chidambaram in the same case lodged by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Justice Banumathi headed the Judges Inquiry Committee (JIC) constituted by the then chairperson of the Rajya Sabha Hamid Ansari to probe sexual harassment charges against the then sitting judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court Justice S K Gangele levelled by a woman additional district judge. The JIC held that although the charge of sexual harassment was not proved “beyond reasonable doubt”, the complainant’s transfer was irregular, hurried, and punitive. The JIC observed and recommended that “she has to be reinstated” if she so wishes.
The Supreme Court has so far had only eight women judges. They are:
Justice M. Fathima Beevi
Term of Office: (DoA)* 06-10-1989 to (DoR)* 29-04-1992
Justice Sujata V Manohar
Term of Office: (DoA) 08-11-1994 to (DoR) 27-08-1999
Justice Ruma Pal
Term of Office: (DoA) 28-01-2000 to (DoR) 02-06-2006
Justice Gyan Sudha Misra
Term of Office: (DoA) 30-04-2010 to (DoR) 27-04-2014
Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai
Term of Office: (DoA) 13-09-2011 to (DoR) 29-10-2014
Justice R. Banumathi (serving judge)
(DoA) 13-08-2014 to (DoR) 19-07-2020
Justice Indu Malhotra(serving judge)
Term of Office: (DoA) 27-04-2018 to (DoR) 13-03-2021
Justice Indira Banerjee (serving judge)
Term of Office: (DoA) 07-08-2018 to (DoR) 23-09-2022
No woman judge has so far been appointed as the Chief Justice of India.