The court said there were 189 proposals regarding appointments pending with the government as on December 31.(Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times)
The court said there were 189 proposals regarding appointments pending with the government as on December 31.(Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times)

Fix timeline for judicial appointments, says SC

  • An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde said that all endeavours should be made to ensure appointments come through in a time-bound manner.
By Utkarsh Anand, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 28, 2021 01:40 AM IST

Even as a new memorandum of procedure (MoP) on judicial appointments is pending for almost four years, the Supreme Court on Wednesday urged the central government to set a fixed timeline for clearing appointments of judges to the high courts and the apex court after receiving the recommendations of the collegium. The court said there were 189 proposals regarding appointments pending with the government as on December 31.

Taking a grim view of the situation where certain proposals remain pending before the government for more than six months, an apex court bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde said that all endeavours should be made to ensure appointments come through in a time-bound manner.

Out of the total strength of 1,079 judges in the high courts, there were 411 vacancies — more than a third of the total positions — as of January 1.

In 2015, the top court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act and the 99th Constitutional Amendment, which sought to give the executive a say in the appointment of judges. This judgment held that judicial appointments will be carried on by the recommendations of the collegium, which comprises the CJI and four other most senior Supreme Court judges.

In this judgment, the court had also said that a new MoP should be put in place in consultation with the government to guide all future appointments of judges. A draft MoP was sent by the SC collegium to the Union law ministry in March 2017, but the government returned it, suggesting certain improvements.

Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in a written replyto a question in the Lok Sabha in March 2020, informed the House that the government’s suggestions have remained pending with the top court ever since.

While the new MoP on eligibility criteria and a timeline for judicial appointments awaits finalisation, the bench, which also included justices Sanjay K Kaul and Surya Kant, on Wednesday called it a “matter of great concern” that the collegium had not heard from the government for months together after making some recommendations. According to the bench, a proposal would get stuck without knowing the reason whether the government had any objection to a certain name or there were other issues.

“Suppose you have reservations and send back the names to us, then we can reiterate or can look into your objections. But if you don’t give comments for five months on a collegium recommendation, it is a matter of great concern,” the bench told attorney general KK Venugopal, who represented the Centre.

Around a dozen names for appointments to high courts of Allahabad and Bombay have been pending since May and June last year.

Underscoring the importance of timely appointments in the constitutional courts, the bench added: “We need to put the house in order. You need to see the bottlenecks and iron them out.”

Justice Kaul, during the hearing, also gave an illustration on the pendency at the government’s end, pointing out that even a proposal to appoint some government lawyers as judges had not been cleared expeditiously.

“In the last five months, the collegium cleared nine judges for various high courts. Out of them, six names are pending with the government. Out of these six, four are in fact government counsel,” the judge told Venugopal.

Justice Kant, referring to a note prepared by justice Kaul about the time taken by the government in processing some appointments, told the A-G that there had been some instances in which the government took more than a year to respond.

“You say something is pending with the Intelligence Bureau (IB), and in some cases chief ministers have not responded about appointments in the high courts. But we want to know what is your (Centre’s) timeline,” the judge asked Venugopal, while mentioning the proposals from the high courts of Allahabad and Bombay.

On his part, the A-G said that there were attempts being made to bring down the pendency of such cases and many such proposals were now being cleared speedily. Venugopal, however, also admitted that there were some cases that had been “pending for a phenomenal amount of time”.

At this point, the CJI cited justice Kaul’s note to highlight that as many as 189 proposals were pending as on December 31 and requested the A-G to study the chart.

“The main purpose of the proceedings is to speed up the pendency of appointment of such judges to high courts and is pending with the government. We all need to see a timeline to achieve this target,” the CJI told Venugopal.

The government has now been asked to consider laying down a timeline for judicial appointments in the higher judiciary and respond in two weeks.

The law ministry did not respond for a request for comment.

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