Centre gives a slow poke to Supreme Court in clearing Collegium's proposals
NEW DELHI: The Centre on Wednesday assured the Supreme Court that there was no deliberate delay on its part in clearing the Collegium’s proposals for appointment of judges in high courts, which have over 400 vacancies against the approved strength of 1,079.
Lobbing the ball into the judiciary’s court, attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi said the tardiness was in fact due to the high courts themselves, which have “pretty much delayed” the process.
The Centre’s top law officer submitted two sets of documents in a sealed cover explaining the reasons for the delay in filling vacancies. “There is no blame game. There is no logjam. It's like a race. If you start in time, you will reach in time,” he said.
During the brief hearing, chief justice T S Thakur, heading a two-judge bench, pointed out that during a recent visit to Chhattisgarh, he had been informed that a particular office had been lying vacant for nine months. There were only eight judges working in that High Court and vacancies were more than one-third.
To this, the attorney-general said the recommendations made by the Collegium with regard to three posts in Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Allahabad High Courts have been cleared already.
The documents submitted to the bench, the attorney-general said, explain every aspect of the “alarming” vacancies in different high courts including the oldest Allahabad High Court, where there has been a delay of nine years in starting the process.
However, the bench looked unconvinced and said it appreciated the assurance but was still at a loss to understand the time being taken. The bench said, "It is an arduous process after which the recommendations come to us. Once we start the process, there should not be a delay.”
The bench said the government should immediately return the proposals to the five-member Supreme Court Collegium for reconsideration if there was any problem. If not, the proposals should be taken forward without any loss of time.
As per the procedure in place, the process of judicial appointments starts with the High Court Collegium, which shortlists the names and forwards them to the Centre, which then refers it to the Supreme Court Collegium, which makes the final decision and sends it back to the government for the necessary background checks.
Wednesday’s hearing came a month after the Judiciary sent a stern message to the Centre over non-execution of the Collegium's decisions on transfers and appointments of chief justices and judges in High Courts. Earlier, the apex court had said it would not tolerate a "logjam in judges appointment" and would intervene to "fasten accountability" as the justice delivery system is collapsing".
Several issues have cropped up in the process of appointing judges following Justice J Chelameswar’s decision to boycott the Collegium unless its proceedings were recorded in order to infuse transparency in the process.