Three months after the Supreme Court struck down the NDA government’s panel to appoint judges to the higher judiciary, the chief justice-led collegium will fill up more than 400 vacancies in high courts and five in the apex court.
No appointments to the higher judiciary have taken place since the later part of 2014 after the BJP-led NDA government notified the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), which was struck down by the apex court on October 16, 2015.
The Centre had brought in the NJAC with the aim of giving a greater say to the executive in the selection and appointment of judges. However, the top court held the new law was unconstitutional because it curtailed the judiciary’s independence.
In a meeting convened last week, the five-member collegium – also comprising justices AR Dave, JS Kehar, Dipak Misra and J Chelameswar – besides chief justice TS Thakur 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 the disposal of cases had suffered due to the stalemate in the appointments. There are just 599 judges working in 24 HCs as against a sanctioned strength of 1044. 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.
The collegium is likely to meet this week to consider the names and take a final decision on the appointments for the SC and chief justices to different HCs. Transfers of some HC judges are also likely to be recommended.