The Central Government nodded to the list of nine High Court judges suggested by the Supreme Court Collegium, for filling the nine vacant seats of Supreme Court judges, after the retirement of Justice Rohinton Nariman on August 12. The list included four HC chief justices, four HC judges and one senior advocate, with three women judges from them. However, a name that missed the spot, who being No. 2 in the All-India list of seniority for judges of high courts, is of Tripura Chief Justice Akil Kureshi.
The appointment of the vacant seats took around two years and one of the reasons for the impasse is said to be the non-inclusion of Justice Kureshi’s name in the recommended list of judges by the Collegium. Notably, the list of nine recommended judges by the collegium came after five days of Justice Nariman’s retirement, who reportedly insisted on including the name of Justice Kureshi in the list.
Born in 1960 to an illustrious family from Gujarat, Justice Akil Kureshi’s grandfather Ghulam Rasul Kureshi was a part of ‘Arun Tukdi’, which would walk the route of Dandi March before the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi. His father, Hamid Kureshi was a senior advocate, a trustee of the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust, and was one of the last people to have been born and lived at Sabarmati Ashram.
In 1980, Justice Kureshi graduated in Mathematics and Law in 1983. After almost 20 years at the Bar, he got appointed as an Additional Judge of the Gujarat High Court, in 2004. Serving for 14 years in the court, he was transferred at the time when he was due to become Chief Justice.
A year after, in 2011, a Bench headed by Justice Kureshi upheld the then Gujarat governor Kamla Beniwal’s decision to appoint former high court judge R A Mehta as the state’s Lokayukta, which had been opposed by CM Modi.
In November 2018, when Justice Kureshi was expected to become Chief Justice of Gujarat, as the senior-most judge of the court. He was transferred to the Bombay HC, where he was the fifth in the seniority and Justice A.S. Dave was appointed as Acting Chief Justice of Gujarat HC.
This move led to a strike by over 1,200 lawyers of the Gujarat HC and petitioned the Supreme Court. In May 2019, stalling his transfer to Bombay, the government sent back the recommendation by Collegium to appoint him as Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh HC instead. Finally, the Collegium recommended him as the Chief Justice of Tripura, in September. This made him lead a court with just four judges instead; from leading a court with 53 judges.
Significant moves by Justice Kureshi:
- His time in the Gujarat High Court, saw two important verdicts by him. These verdicts proved to be an embarrassment to the then Narendra Modi government in the state. In 2010, he overturned the trial court order and granted the CBI two-day custody of then Gujarat Home Minister and now Union Home Minister Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case.
- In 2014, he had recused himself from hearing a PIL alleging encroachment on the premises of the Sabarmati Ashram Trust, Sabarmati Harijan Ashram Trust and Manav Sadhna Trust.
- In 2020 Suo moto, as the Chief Justice of Tripura, he took up the case of trafficking of a 14-year-old girl and ordered an investigation into a woman and her husband’s suicide following some leaked videos, with the accused tried for moral policing; and took up a PIL on the state government’s handling of Covid-19 pandemic, after which the state made some slight correction in its vaccination claims.
- Since he took over in 2019, his disposal rate of cases has been exceptionally high with only 1,500 cases pending now compared to 3,000 at that time.