Wednesday, 29 June, 2022
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16 names cleared by SC collegium for HC judge posts stuck with govt, 6 of them since 2019

CJI-led Supreme Court bench Wednesday voiced its concern over delay on the government’s part in acting on the apex court collegium’s decisions for judicial appointments.

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New Delhi: The central government is yet to clear 16 names that were approved by the Supreme Court collegium for appointment to four high courts, with the oldest recommendations going back to July 2019, ThePrint has learnt.

The central government is also yet to process 103 proposals that were sent to the Union Ministry of Law & Justice by various high courts to be forwarded to the top court collegium for its approval, deepening the vacancy crisis in the higher judiciary.

The collegium is a three-member high-powered panel led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI).

The government can notify the nominees as judges only when the Supreme Court collegium clears them for appointment. According to Supreme Court sources, these files have been pending with the government for more than a year.

Currently, there are 668 working judges in the 24 high courts, against a sanctioned strength of 1,079. This translates to a vacancy of 38 per cent in high courts.

With regard to the 16 names finalised by the apex court collegium, sources told ThePrint that the government has not returned them with any objections or views, as is required under the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) that governs judicial appointments.

ThePrint reached the Union Ministry of Law and Justice by mail for a comment, but hadn’t received a response by the time of publishing this report.

On Wednesday, a Supreme Court bench led by CJI S.A. Bobde voiced its concern over delay on the government’s part in acting on the apex court collegium’s decisions for judicial appointments.

Hearing a petition on vacancies in high courts, the bench — also comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Surya Kant — took critical note of the long time the government takes to respond to proposals sent by high courts as well.

It has asked the Union Ministry of Law and Justice to apprise it on how long it would take to finalise the appointments after the government receives a file from the top court.

“If you don’t give comments for five months on collegium recommendations, it is a matter of great concern,” Justice Kaul said.

The court also sought to know the status of the more than 100 names sent by the high courts to the central government as recommendations for judicial appointments.


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16 names, 4 high courts

Under the MoP, recommendations for judicial appointments to high courts are first sent to the central government by individual high court collegiums for Intelligence Bureau (IB) inputs. 

The government then forwards the files, along with the IB inputs, to the Supreme Court collegium. If the apex court collegium clears the names, the files return to the central government that then either notifies the appointments or sends them back with objections or its views.

At this stage, the apex court collegium can seek additional inputs on the government’s opinion. Accordingly, it can either reject or reiterate the proposal.

If the collegium reiterates its decision, brushing aside government objections, then, under the MoP, the government is bound to notify the appointments.

However, the MoP does not specify a timeframe for the central government to act on a collegium decision.

Speaking to ThePrint, an officer in the Supreme Court registry said the government “is simply sitting over the names, which the CJI-headed collegium cleared after receiving Intelligence Bureau inputs”. 

“As per the current MoP, if the government has reservations with a name, then it should express it in writing, while sending the file back to the collegium for reconsideration. In all these cases, there has been no such move,” the officer added, referring to the 16 recommendations cleared by the Supreme Court collegium.

The oldest apex court collegium recommendation lying with the government was sent on 25 July 2019, and pertains to five lawyers cleared for appointment to the Calcutta High Court.

A woman advocate’s elevation to the Jammu & Kashmir High Court also awaits the government’s go-ahead. Sources in the Supreme Court told ThePrint that her name was sent to the government on 17 October 2019 along with the names of three other lawyers. While two of them have become judges, the file for one was sent back to the collegium for reconsideration.

“However, the government has expressed no views on her file,” said a source.

Similarly, there has been no response from the central government on four names sent for the Kerala High Court and six for Delhi on 17 and 18 August 2020, respectively.


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Top court seeks update

Apart from the names pending with the government, sources said another 23 are lying with the top court collegium. These files were deferred in the past and need to be deliberated again by collegium members, the sources added.

In December 2020, the central government forwarded 47 fresh files received from high courts to the top court collegium for its comments and approval.  

During the hearing Wednesday, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the bench that the government has brought down the pendency of recommendations “to 104 from 150 (sic)”, admitting that there “are many which are pending for a phenomenal amount of time”.

The bench subsequently asked the government for an “update on pending names as on 29 January”. 

“Suppose you have reservations and send back names to us, then we can reiterate. But if you don’t give comments for five months on collegium recommendation, it is a matter of great concern,” the bench added. “You need to see the bottlenecks and iron them out.” 

The court said it was not seeking the government’s response for proposals that were deferred for consideration by the collegium.


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1 COMMENT

  1. The collegium is a joke. The CJI is a joker. Judges cannot appoint themselves. Let the government sit on the names indefinitely and let the higher judiciary collapse. We will then rebuild with proper checks and balances on the judiciary.

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