Only 188 names under consideration for 419 HC judge vacancies
There are currently 188 names in contemplation for appointment as high court judges as against a staggering vacancy of 419 judges -- more than a third of the total positions. Of the 188 names being considered, a majority of the names (112) are pending with the central government with the oldest recommendations for appointment going back to July 2019, HT has learnt through people familiar with the development.
As on date, the government has a total of 40 names to clear as judges after the Supreme Court collegium recommended them while another 72 other names forwarded by various high courts are also pending with the union ministry of law and justice.
Out of these 72 names sent by the high courts, the law ministry has been sitting on 50 names for more than six months without forwarding them to the Supreme Court collegium for finalisation, compounding the crisis.
The law ministry did not respond to queries by the time of going to press.
The procedure requires high courts to send the names first to the government for Intelligence Bureau (IB) inputs, following which they are to be sent by the government to the SC collegium. After finalising these names, the SC collegium sends them back to the government for making the appointments. However, under the memorandum of procedure (MoP) on judicial appointments, there is no timeframe for the government to act on a collegium decision.
Meanwhile, the SC collegium, which comprises the Chief Justice of India and the two most senior judges of the apex court in matters of appointment of high court judges, has 53 new names for consideration whereas there are 23 other names that are awaiting a final decision by the collegium. Out of these 23 names, some are pending for more than 20 months without the collegium being able to make up its mind, according to the people cited in the first instance who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The fresh proposals of 53 names received by the SC collegium include 33 names for the Allahabad high court, which has a shortage of 64 judges out of the total 160; and 22 names for the Bombay high court where 30 vacancies are to be filled up out of the total strength of 94 judges.
Notably, even as 188 names are in contemplation, there are 231 vacancies that are going to require the chief justices of the high courts to send the proposals for appointments in order to alleviate the situation.
Currently, there are 661 working judges in the 24 high courts, against a sanctioned strength of 1,079. This translates to a vacancy of around 39% in high courts.
Recently, a bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, 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.
Hearing a petition on a related issue on January 27, the bench, which also included justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Surya Kant, 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.
Justice Kaul had also prepared a chart to highlight the stages where the names were getting stuck, as the judge implored attorney general KK Venugopal, who represented the government, to consider laying down a timeline for the executive to clear appointments in the higher judiciary, with every stage of appointment marked by a definite time period. The A-G had then taken time to study the chart and come back with a response. The next hearing in expected on February 16.
After this hearing, the SC collegium has sent 24 names for appointments to the high court, in addition to 16 others that were already pending. Out of these 24 names, the people cited above said the maximum names – 11, are for the Allahabad high court.