Centre set to send 120 names for judges to Supreme Court collegium
The law ministry is set to forward nearly 120 names shortlisted for appointments as high court (HC) judges to the Supreme Court (SC) collegium by the end of the week, a top official familiar with the development said on Thursday, as the government seeks to fill gaps in higher judiciary and also meet a target it has set for itself in terms of judicial appointments.
The SC collegium is a body of the country’s top judges, headed by the Chief Justice of India, which appoints judges; the ministry’s move would make this the biggest batch of recommendations forwarded to the SC collegium in a single week.
This effectively ends a six-month-long go-slow with regards to appointments that saw only 34 judges being appointed till the end of June . For the 407 HC vacancies that currently exist, the law ministry says it will eventually process all 203 files it has received so far.
The names are sent by the HC collegiums — similar bodies of top judges in the 24 HCs — to the ministry, which then completes background checks of the candidates picked from the bar and the state judiciary with the help of confidential reports by the Intelligence Bureau (IB). After that, the ministry forwards all details to the SC collegium for the final selection.
“We have already sent 69 names this week,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Another government official added that the names already sent to the SC collegium pertain to 13 high courts in the country while the department of justice has cleared another batch of around 50 names, which are expected to be sent to the CJI by the end of the week.
“There have been 34 judges’ appointments this year so far; this (batch of recommendations forwarded) will allow us to cross the 126 mark this year,” the first official added.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said last month that the government had appointed 126 judges in 2016 and would “definitely cross that number by year-end”. The government has been criticised over vacancies in the higher judiciary with nearly a third of the 1079 sanctioned posts lying vacant.
January to June was the slowest six month period due to the IB slowing down the background check reports, the second official cited above revealed.
The IB usually takes around four weeks to process a background check. However, since November last year, the agency slowed down the process after the SC collegium began putting its resolutions on the top court’s website.
“The collegium gave reasons for rejecting candidates’ names often citing the IB reports. This caused the slowdown,” he said. The IB had formally written to the law ministry saying the reports submitted by the bureau are “confidential” and only for the perusal of the ministry. It requested that the reports not be sent beyond the ministry.
The matter was resolved after the IB’s concerns were verbally conveyed to the collegium, the official added. Law ministry officials also added that the HC collegiums are yet to send names for the remaining 204 vacancies, effectively putting the onus now on the judiciary for posts remaining vacant.