After the recent controversy over the delay in his elevation, Justice Akil Abdul hamid Kureshi was sworn in as Chief Justice of the Tripura High Court on November 16, in a ceremony marked by the quiet dignity and grace that the much-respected judge has displayed throughout his illustrious career.
Born on March 7, 1960, Kureshi enrolled as an advocate in Gujarat after obtaining an LL.B in 1983. From March 1992 to March 1998, he was appointed as Additional Central Government Standing Counsel. He was also assigned entire work of Central Administrative Tribunal, Ahmedabad and handled large number of service matters on behalf of the Government. From there, Kureshi rose to first become an Additional Judge of the Gujarat High Court in March 2004, and was then made a permanent judge in 2005. In 2010, Kureshi famously remanded Amit Shah to police custody in connection with the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case.
After then Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court Subhash Reddy was elevated to the Supreme Court, there transpired a period of flux when an acting Chief Justice needed to be appointed. While Judge Kureshi was the senior-most, Justice Anant Dave was appointed Acting Chief Justice. Interestingly, the collegium recommended that Kureshi be transferred to the Bombay High Court, something that Gujarat High Court Advocates Association (GHCAA) protested tooth and nail! Less than 24 hours later, on November 2, 2018, Kureshi was made to replace him! But then again, in a shocking turn of events, Kureshi was transferred to the Bombay High Court after less than two weeks on the job!
Senior Advocate and GHCAA President Yatin Oza told Bar and Bench that this was a clear case of vendetta. Oza said, “He [Justice Kureshi] gave two days remand to Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin case. When [then Chief Minister of Gujarat] Modi did not appoint a Lokayukta (in Gujarat) for ten years, he upheld the order of the Governor appointing a Lokayukta. They did not like these two orders.”
In May 2019, the Supreme Court Collegium headed by then Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court Ranjan Gogoi, had recommended that Judge Kureshi be elevated as Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. However, the Department of Justice did not take this recommendation and on June 10, Justice Ravi Shankar Jha, who was the senior-most judge at the MP HC was elevated to Acting Chief Justice of the court. The decision on Justice Kureshi’s elevation pending for six months!
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad explained the decision to ignore the collegium’s recommendation saying, “As a Law Minister, I will not be a post office simpliciter. The Law Minister and the Law Ministry has a role as a stakeholder, obviously giving due regard and respect to the Collegium system. But as Law Minister, neither I nor my department will remain a post office. We have a stake and we shall continue to pursue that stake in consultation with the Honourable Supreme Court and Honourable High Courts to expedite the appointments.”
In July, the GHCAA moved Supreme Court imploring it to examine the center’s apparent reluctance to appoint Justice Qureshi as the Chief Justice of the MP HC. Legal luminary Fali S. Nariman appeared for the GHCAA and cited the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) which flows from Article 217 of the Constitution and allows the Supreme Court Collegium, comprising the Chief Justice and two of his or her senior-most fellow Supreme Court justices, to make its recommendation to the Union Ministry of Law. The Law Ministry then obtains the concerned state government’s view and submit a proposal to the Prime Minister.
But shockingly, in September, the Collegium changed its recommendation and now suggested that Justice Kureshi be appointed to the Tripura High Court.
Throughout this period, Justice Kureshi maintained a dignified silence and he was sworn in on Saturday November 16, 2019 in a simple ceremony that reflected his single-minded determination to uphold the dignity of the law. Justice Qureshi was administered the oath of office by governmer Ramesh Bais. In attendance at the ceremony were Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb, Deputy Chief Minster Jishnu Dev Varma, their cabinet colleagues and two other judges, S Talpatra and A Lodh. Seven sitting judges of the Bombay High Court and two sitting Judges of the Gujarat High Court also attended the ceremony.