Chief Justice of India TS Thakur has written to chief justices of all the 24 high courts to recommend names of deserving candidates to fill 400 posts of judges lying vacant for over a year.
The Supreme Court collegium led by the CJI has already cleared the names of 120 candidates for appointment in various high courts after a constitution bench declared the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) unconstitutional in October last year, sources privy to the judicial appointment process told HT.
Of the 120 appointments cleared by the collegium, almost half were confirmation of additional judges as permanent judges while the rest were fresh appointments as additional judges, the sources said, adding the highest number of names rejected were from the Allahabad high court.
“A good number of names were rejected by the collegium as it didn’t find them up to mark,” one of the sources said.
The process for these 120 appointments was initiated before the creation of NJAC that aimed to give a greater say to the executive in judicial appointments but it remained in limbo during the pendency of petitions against NJAC. A constitution bench of the SC had on October 16, 2015 revived the collegium system under which judges appoint judges.
“Out of the 400 judges’ posts, 60 have already been filled and by the way things are moving around 100-120 more appointments can take place during 2016. Still more than 200 posts could remain vacant,” the source added.
The collegium has also transferred an unusually large number of high court judges, including four from the Delhi high court.
In January, the five-member collegium – also comprising justices AR Dave, JS Kehar, Dipak Misra and J Chelameswar – had in principle agreed to start the process without necessarily waiting for the Centre to prepare a fresh memorandum of procedure (MoP) for fixing the eligibility and other criteria for the judges.
MoP is an administrative mechanism set up after a 1998 verdict that upheld the collegium system for appointing judges. On December 16, a constitution bench headed by Justice Kehar directed the Centre to evolve a new mechanism to usher in transparency in the appointment procedure.
Sources said the MoP is likely to take time because the law ministry is still in the process of eliciting views of different state governments, bar councils and other stake holders on the issue. Also, the government has not set any deadline for itself to complete the task.
During the meeting, collegium members felt that disposal of cases had suffered due to the stalemate in the appointments. There are just over 600 judges working in 24 HCs as against a sanctioned strength of 1,044. At present 45 lakh cases are awaiting a final decision in these HCs.
The top court, which has a sanctioned strength of 31, is itself short of five judges. This year 6 judges are due for retirement and if appointments are not made the actual strength might come down to just 20.