Centre, Supreme Court judges spar over judicial appointments
Delays in the appointment of judges to higher courts led to an open showdown between the judiciary and government in the Supreme Court on Friday, with each blaming the other for the crisis.
At least half the high courts are functioning at 50% of their strength, even as judicial appointments have become a sore point between the executive and judiciary, with the latest being that over Uttarakhand Chief Justice KM Joseph’s elevation to the top court.
Although Justice Joseph’s name was cleared by the top court collegium for elevation, the government sent the recommendation back, questioning his seniority in the long line of judges in the high courts. The government also sought more representation for weaker sections and states unrepresented in the top court.
The simmering tension boiled over on Friday, when the issue of appointments of judges to the high courts of Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura came up before a bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur (who’s part of the top court collegium) and Justice Deepak Gupta. Justice Lokur demanded to know from the attorney general – the government’s topmost law officer – why the government was sitting on recommendations made by the collegium.
“Tell us how many names are pending with you,” he asked. KK Venugopal at first said he would have to find out the exact position. But when the bench persisted, he shifted the blame on to the collegium, suggesting that the collegium was slow to make recommendations.
“If there is no collegium recommendation, nothing can be done,” the A-G said. “The collegium will have to see the broader picture and recommend more names,” he said. “Some high courts have 40 vacancies and the collegium recommendation is only three. And the government is being told that we are tardy in filling up vacancies,” he said.
The collegium on April 19 recommended that Justices M Yaqoob Mir and Ramalingam Sudhakar be appointed as the chief justices of the Meghalaya and Manipur high courts. But the names are yet to be cleared. The appointments are formally done by the executive based on the collegium recommendations.
Venugopal said a decision on these appointments would be made soon. “What are the people from the Northeast supposed to do? They come before us and say: ‘please transfer our case to other high courts’. They spend money for this,” Justice Lokur said, giving the government 10 days to get back to court on the matter.