Expressing anguish over the delay in appointment of judges in the country’s high courts, the Supreme Court tore into the Centre on Friday and said that the entire institution of judiciary cannot be br
Expressing anguish over the delay in appointment of judges in the country’s high courts, the Supreme Court tore into the Centre on Friday and said that the entire institution of judiciary cannot be brought to a grinding halt.
“Court rooms are locked down. Do you want to lock down the institution of judiciary as well You cannot bring the entire institution to a grinding halt,” the court said, adding the government has been delaying appointments despite recommendations made by the top court’s collegium.
The court is hearing a PIL seeking a direction to the government to speed up judicial appointments in the high courts short of 450 judges. More than four million cases are pending in these courts.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur refused to accept the submissions of attorney general (AG) Mukul Rohatgi that the government had cleared most names recommended by the collegium.
An angry CJI told the country’s top law officer, “In Allahabad, out of a sanctioned strength of 165, there are only 77 judges. In Karnataka, an entire floor of courts is locked because there are no judges. You may now as well close court rooms and have the institution of judiciary locked.”
The apex court is particularly peeved at the pendency of 35 appointments it had cleared for the Allahabad high court. These appointments assume significance considering that the country’s largest high court accounts for about 25 per cent of nearly 40 lakh cases pending in all 24 high courts and would have helped bring down vacancies.
When the AG defended the delay saying a memorandum of procedure (MoP) for judicial appointments had been pending before the collegium, the CJI said, “MoP is your red herring. The law minister and the government have repeatedly told us that MoP will not stall appointments. Over all we had made 88 recommendations. You are sitting on them.”
Initially, the court ordered the secretaries with judicial appointments in the justice department and the PMO to appear in person with records. But the CJI later said, “We don’t want institutions to clash. This is not about anybody’s ego. This is about institutions suffering.” The CJI asked the government not to bring the judiciary to a grinding halt.
The court said it has been very patient and tolerant so far, but the government inaction is scuttling judicial appointments. The court said the government must return the names to the collegium instead of sitting on them. The AG assured the court that he would take up the matter at the highest level and come back on November 11, the next date of hearing.
The Congress accused the Modi government of weakening democratic institutions. “This government has been systematically and deliberately undermining democratic institutions of this country, including judiciary,” Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.