New Delhi: Hearing a plea seeking directions for issuing notifications to appoint judges, the Supreme Court Friday observed that the Modi government has moved to swiftly clear appointments.
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said only 27 files pertaining to the appointment of high court judges were pending with the Centre and around 70-80 proposals with the collegium.
The court was hearing a plea filed by Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) over two months after it was first listed.
The plea sought directions for issuing notifications to appoint judges whose names have been reiterated by the collegium, or those who have been recommended but the government has not responded for more than six weeks.
However, Gogoi sought time to resolve the issue and posted the matter for after six weeks when advocate Prashant Bhushan submitted that the government was still sitting over the files for quite some time.
During the pendency of this plea in the past few weeks, the top court has seen its judges come and go.
Since November, two judges have retired — Justices Kurian Joseph and Madan Lokur — and two — Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna — have been appointed, including a future Chief Justice of India. However, the appointments of the latter were not without its share of controversy.
What the plea says
In its plea, CPIL cited instances of the Modi government’s inaction on collegium appointments.
The plea submitted that this “…not only show complete disregard of the law so declared by this Hon’ble court but also a virtual breakdown of the consultative process thereby diminishing if not destroying the primacy of the Chief Justice of India with regard to appointment in the manner laid down in the judgment”.
“The picture that emerges reflects an extremely sorry state of affairs with regard to appointments and transfers of Judges to the higher Judiciary thereby seriously eroding the Independence of the Judiciary and violating the Basic Structure of the Constitution,” it added.
The petition also mentioned a report by the ThePrint to make its argument.
The appointment of Justices Maheshwari and Khanna was not smooth sailing for the top court collegium.
The Modi government cleared the appointment of the two judges on 16 January despite widespread criticism from the bar and the bench. A week before the judges were appointed, the apex court had rescinded its earlier decision to elevate Delhi High Court chief justice Rajendra Menon and Rajasthan High Court chief justice Pradeep Nandrajog to the Supreme Court.
More recently, a proposal to transfer Justice S. Muralidhar from Delhi High Court came under fire. The move was stalled after at least two members of the collegium advised CJI Gogoi against it.
Last week, the top court released the collegium resolutions on its website to reiterate the transfer of Telangana High Court chief justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan to Calcutta High Court.
The collegium had proposed the move in its 10 January meeting, but the government remitted it back for reconsideration.
On Tuesday, the collegium “resolved” to reiterate the proposal since it had “already considered all aspects pointed out by the Government for seeking reconsideration thereof” and “nothing new” was brought to their notice.