The Supreme Court rebuked the government on Friday for “scuttling” the working of judiciary by sitting on the appointment of judges in various high courts despite the recommendation of a recruitment collegium.
“Today we have a situation where courtrooms are locked because there are no judges. For example, Karnataka…. Why don’t you lock the courts?” a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur asked, adding: “Executive inaction is decimating the institution (judiciary).”
The bench is hearing a public interest litigation on the judicial appointment process in 24 high courts, which together have more than 450 vacancies against the sanctioned strength of 1,041.
“You are scuttling the working of the institution,” the bench, which has been asking the government to show urgency, said.
The bench disapproved of the Centre’s cherry-picking of names for Allahabad high court, where the government has cleared only two of the eight recommendations made by the Supreme Court collegium.
India is the only country in the world where judges appoint judges under a collegium system established by the apex court in 1993. Top judges take all decisions on judicial appointments and the government does not have any say in the process.
The National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC), which was enacted by Parliament with unanimous decision of political parties, was declared unconstitutional by a constitution bench last year.
Since then the government and the judiciary have been at loggerheads, with the Chief Justice of India pointing out that delay in judicial appointments was making it difficult for courts to function.
CJI Thakur, who broke down earlier this year while talking about the problem, had also expressed disappointment that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not mention the issue in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
On the government saying the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for judicial appointments wasn’t ready, the court said it will constitute a five-judge bench to clarify that appointments should not to be held up if the MoP wasn’t ready.
Initially, the court wanted to summon the secretaries of the department of justice and the Prime Minister’s Office, but later chose to refrain on the attorney general’s request.
Last month, attorney general Rohatgi had told the top court that the government alone can’t be blamed for judicial vacancies as many posts were lying vacant for over five years.