The Supreme Court on Wednesday took critical note of the government’s tendency to not act on recommendations made by the Collegium for long periods of time, stating that it is a matter of great concern.
The Court also asked the Union Ministry of Law and Justice to lay down a timeline and apprise it on how long it would take to respond to recommendations made by the High Courts for the appointment of judges.
“If you don’t give comments for five months on collegium recommendations, it is a matter of great concern,” Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said.
The Bench observed that there were recommendations sent by the High Courts of Bombay and Allahabad in May or June last year.
In this light, the Court asked,
“What is your timeline to respond to these recommendations of judges appointment?”
A special three-judge Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices SK Kaul and Surya Kant made the observations while hearing a plea seeking the appointment of additional judges in High Courts.
“Government has taken more than a year to respond… You say something is pending with Intelligence Bureau and some Chief Minister has not responded. But we want to know your (Centre) timeline”, Justice Kant said.
“We need to put the houses in order,” Justice Kaul weighed in, before the matter was adjourned by two weeks.
When the matter is taken up next, the Court may prioritise examining the vacancies that have not yet been addressed, CJI Bobde indicated today. While a response has been sought from the High Courts as well, CJI Bobde observed,
“We cannot always ask for a timeline, we will ask High Courts about issues they face. Some we will address on the judicial side and some on the administrative side.”
189 proposals are pending
During the hearing, Justice Kaul remarked,
“5 months, the Collegium cleared 9 judges and 6 are pending with government. Out of that 4 are government counsels.”
He went on to add,
“We need the update on pending names as on January 29. Suppose you have reservations and send back names to us, then we can reiterate. But if you don’t give comments for five months on collegium recommendation, it is a matter of great concern.”
“You need to see the bottlenecks and iron them out”, the Court further urged the government.
CJI Bobde also informed Attorney General KK Venugopal that Justice Kaul has prepared a chart on vacancies in the High Courts and the proposals pending with the government and the Collegium.
“189 proposals are pending. We will hand this chart to you. Please study this chart and we will hear this matter soon”, CJI Bobde said.
On his part, Attorney General Venugopal informed the Court that the pendency of recommendations was brought down from 150 to 104 last December. However, he admitted that, “there are many which are pending for a phenomenal amount of time.”
The CJI responded that the Court is not seeking a response on matters which have been deferred for consideration. Rather, he said,
“The main purpose of the proceedings is to speed up the pendency of appointment of such judges to High Courts and is pending with the government. We all need to see a timeline to achieve this target.”
CJI Bobde also observed that the Court would not take any names of individual judges in the matter, adding that it wants to deal with the issue on the administrative side.
“Every time we get a spate of complaints whenever we recommend a name“, CJI Bobde observed.
“For transparency sake, it needs to be on judicial side,” urged Senior Advocate Vikas Singh.
“On judicial or administrative side, there is no lack of transparency. There may be lack of publicity but not transparency,” CJI Bobde responded.
“Ultimately this institution is for litigants and if litigants don’t get Justice then,” Senior Advocate Singh proceeded to remark.
This prompted CJI Bobde to assure,
“We have spent 25 years in this system, we know what is this institution is for. Leave it to us. We will do it right.”