Delay in judges’ appointment not due to Centre, says CJI Ranjan Gogoi
The government came in for some kind words from Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi on Friday over the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.
“If at all there was a delay, it was on the part of the collegium and not the Union of India,” Gogoi said, hearing a petition by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), a non-government organisation (NGO).
The three-member collegium that appoints high court judges is headed by the CJI.
Disagreeing with the contention of CPIL that the government had been sitting on recommendations made by the collegium to appoint high court judges, the CJI, on a bench with justice Sanjiv Khanna, observed: “How can you say that? Appointment are happening, some of the names are pending with the collegium. As the Chief Justice, I am telling you that whatever is pending is mostly before the collegium. There are almost 70-80 proposals pending before the Supreme Court collegium and hardly 27 before the government.”
These observations assume significance in the backdrop of the fact that the judiciary has generally blamed the government for dragging its feet on fresh appointments to high courts.
Two years ago, then CJI TS Thakur had broken down, requesting the government to clear proposals for judicial appointments to high courts – where 434 posts against the sanctioned strength of 1,056 still remained vacant – on a war footing.
According to the figures of the law ministry, as on Feburary 1, 2019, the vacancies in high courts stood at 400 posts against a sanctioned strength of 1,079.
CPIL, in its petition, argued that the Centre was blocking the process of appointment and sought suitable directions to the government to comply with the recommendations made since 2016.
During the hearing, when CPIL’s Prashant Bhushan insisted, the CJI said: “We don’t want to say anything more right now.” He said appointments were taking place regularly and posted the matter for a hearing after six weeks.
Filed in 2018, CPIL’s petition alleges that the Centre has deliberately held up appointment of judges despite the fact that recommendations made by the collegium are binding on the government.
Various constitution bench judgements – of 1993, 1998 and the 2016 National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) case – have been cited in the petition to assert that the collegium and CJI are supreme when it comes to appointment and transfer of judges.
Despite binding judicial directions, the Centre, it said, continues to sit over files and this reflects a “virtual breakdown of the consultative process, thereby diminishing, if not destroying the primacy of the Chief Justice of India.”
“The picture that emerges reflects an extremely sorry state of affairs with regard to appointments and transfers of Judges to the higher Judiciary thereby seriously eroding the Independence of the Judiciary and violating the Basic Structure of the Constitution,” the NGO has said.