New Delhi: Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana has written to the chief justices of all 25 High Courts, asking them to expedite the process of appointing judges to fill up the large number of vacancies, ThePrint has learnt.
The letter, sent a week after he took over as the CJI on 24 April, draws the attention of chief justices to the vacancy crisis plaguing the higher judiciary and urges them to recommend names as soon as possible.
ThePrint spoke to a few chief justices, who confirmed having received the letter. Although the communique does not fix any deadline to send the names, it does mention the time frame fixed in the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for appointment of judges.
This MoP clause was also reiterated in a Supreme Court judgment given last month in the judges appointment case by a bench then led by former CJI S.A. Bobde. The verdict fixed a time frame for the central government to clear names with inputs of the Intelligence Bureau.
According to the MoP, chief justices of HCs must propose names for judgeship at least six months before a vacancy is about to arise.
To fill up the 40 per cent vacancies in HCs is one of the key challenges CJI Ramana faces during his 16-month-long tenure as the head of the judiciary. Also, the top court at present has seven vacancies and six more are likely to arise before CJI Ramana’s term ends on 25 August 2022.
HCs in ‘deep crisis’
Justice Bobde’s bench had in its judgment remarked that HCs were in “deep crisis,” with many large HCs working with less than 50 per cent of the sanctioned strength.
CJI Ramana’s letter assumes significance because the central government had during the hearing of the judges appointment case flagged the issue of delay on the part of HCs who were yet to send names for around 53 per cent of their total vacancies.
According to the central government’s note submitted before the top court, there are 416 vacancies against the sanctioned strength of 1,080 HC judges. The top law officer claimed the government had received only 196 proposals from HCs, while no recommendations were there for the 220 vacancies.
The central government’s stand was in response to the criticism by the bench, which questioned it for sitting over proposals sent by various HCs as well as the ones that were cleared by the Supreme Court collegium. The MoP underlines that the government has to notify appointments once the appointing body comprising CJI and two senior-most judges of the top court approve them.
What SC said last month
While speaking with ThePrint, chief justice of a HC said: “It is true that the MoP wants a chief justice to suggest candidates in advance. However, there is hesitation on the part of chief justices to send more names when the ones sent earlier remain in the pipeline for long, raising uncertainty and doubt over the proposals. Inordinate delay on the Centre’s part is one of the reasons why it has now become difficult for chief justices to find good suitable candidates.”
Last month’s SC judgment had also noted this reluctance and apprehension in the minds of chief justices. But it had still emphasised the “requirement and desirability of the chief justices of the HCs” to “make endeavour to recommend vacancies as early as possible.”
In a related judgment, the same bench had also approved appointment of ad-hoc judges according to Article 224A of the Constitution to overcome the vacancy crisis and a docket explosion in HCs where over 54 lakh cases are pending for final adjudication.