There are eight vacancies in the apex court, of which five are to be filled within few days.
New Delhi: The NDA government wants the new Chief Justice of India, J.S. Khehar, to remove the logjam in judicial appointments in over a year. The CJI has responded immediately by recommending five names for appointment as judges to the apex court.
With the former CJI T.S. Thakur squarely blaming the Centre for the stalemate, no fresh appointments were made to the apex court and various high courts, resulting in piling up of vacancies and accumulation of arrears. Justice Thakur used two public interest petitions to voice his grievance against the government.
There are eight vacancies in the apex court, of which five are to be filled within few days. There are more than 430 vacancies in the high courts, which has a sanctioned strength of 1,079. So most high courts are working at 50 per cent strength.
There was an inordinate since Justice Thakur’s period in finalising the memorandum of procedure relating to judicial appointments, the process of filling the vacancies is being delayed. The collegium headed by the new CJI Khehar has almost finalised the MoP and it is likely to be sent back to the Union law ministry in the next few days.
The Supreme Court has a pendency of over 60,000 cases, various high courts have 45 lakh cases and trial courts around 2.75 crore cases, making it a total of around 3.25 crore cases, which may even cross four crore in a year.
Soon after the new CJI Khehar took over, the Centre has drawn the attention of Justice Khehar to the fact that after the verdict quashing the National Judicial Appointments Commission, the MoP has to be put in place. But the draft MoP sent in August 2016 to the then CJI Thakur is yet to be finalised. The Centre feels that once the MoP is finalised all the problems can be taken care of and the issue of appointment of judges can be resolved in the administrative side without any intervention in judicial side. The conciliatory approach of the Centre is intended to resolve the issue amicably.
There is no consensus in finalising the MoP at least on two issues. The government wanted a “veto power” that is to reserve its right to reject any candidate recommended for appointment as a judge on grounds of “national security”. Under the earlier MoP, the Centre had the right to return a name back to the collegium for reconsideration.
But if the collegium reiterates the recommendation, the Centre is bound to accept the recommendation.
In the revised MoP, the Centre says it can reject any name on grounds of national security. Another area of difference is the Centre had suggested a separate secretariat to deal with the process of appointments and/or transfers and a screening committee of retired Supreme Court judges to vet the names.
But the judiciary feels that appointing a separate secretariat and a screening committee to vet the names would “not only impinge on the independence of the judiciary, but could also lead to prospective names being leaked” and this cannot be accepted. Though the differences seemed to have been sorted out, it remains to be seen whether justice Khehar accepts the draft MoP and toe the centre’s line or reiterate the judiciary’s primacy in appointments.