NEW DELHI: Days after the Calcutta High Court warned the Centre of “appropriate action” and made scathing remarks against it for sitting over the appointment of judges in the High Court which is severely short-staffed; the files for the appointment of new judges have finally started moving in the government.
Highly placed sources in Law ministry said that the ministry has cleared the files for the appointment of five new judges in the Calcutta High court and that the file would soon be sent to the Prime Minister’s Office for approval.
Interestingly, the names of all these five were initially rejected by the government when it was first sent to them by the Supreme Court collegium nearly ten months ago.
The Collegium reiterated the names and sent back the files to the government. But the files did not move. All the five who are being elevated as judges are senior lawyers. The five also includes a woman lawyer.
A senior government official, who did not wish to be named, said that the government decided to clear the names only recently. The top government official added that the process of appointment of new judges will be finalised soon after the President elect Ramnath Kovind takes charge as the 14th President of India.
Explaining the process of appointment of High court judges, the official said, “After clearance from the law ministry, the files are sent to PMO and then the President for approval. Once that is done, notification is issued by the ministry.”
Earlier, this month, the Calcutta HC came down heavily on the Centre over alleged delay in appointment of judges. The bench even asked the union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to intervene and give top priority to appointing judges in the Calcutta HC, observing whether the nation could think of the parliament functioning with half its strength.
Calcutta High Court, the country’s oldest high court, has the distinction of more than 50 per cent posts of judges vacant. With a sanctioned strength of 72 judges — 54 permanent and 18 additional judges — the High Court is currently functioning with just 34 judges.
The division bench had said, “The politeness of this bench may not be understood as weakness on its part to be firm. It is made clear that continued silence of the central government in the matter of appointment of judges in the near future, despite the concerns expressed in this order, would certainly be viewed seriously as interference in the course of administration of justice and followed by appropriate action as authorised in law.”
The bench had also pointed out that by February 2018, 10 judges of the Calcutta High Court will retire, cutting the strength to 24 if no fresh appointment is made by that time.
The bench had made the observations after it could not hear an accused’s anticipatory bail plea for more than a month and due to this, the accused was arrested leaving his plea infructuous.