A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Abhay S Oka said the government was not following the guidelines framed by the court last year for appointment of judges in a time-bound manner. It said many eminent lawyers were not agreeing to take up judgeship because of the Centre’s approach and several of them had withdrawn their consent, which was a loss for the rule of law and judiciary as it’s difficult to find meritorious persons willing to become judges.
As many as 68 recommendations were pending before the government of which 11 were names that the collegium had reiterated, which as per the court’s order becomes binding on government to accept. The court was hearing a contempt petition filed by The Advocates’ Association Bengaluru through advocate Pai Amit, alleging that government was sitting on some recommendations made way back in 2019 and later resent by the collegium.
“We may notice that among names for which reconsideration was sought by the government and the collegium reiterated their names, even those persons have not been appointed. A person has even withdrawn his consent and the system lost an eminent person from the bar… In another case reiteration was done three times. Just keeping the names pending is not acceptable. It is becoming some sort of device to compel the persons to withdraw their names (from judgeship),” the bench said.
The bench noted that advocate Jaytosh Majumdar was recommended in 2019 and the recommendation reiterated by the SC collegium, but his name was not cleared and he died recently. “Needless to say that unless the bench is adorned by eminent persons, rule of law and justice suffers,” the bench said. Though the court was hearing a contempt petition, it refrained from issuing a contempt notice and issued a simple notice to the secretary (justice) and additional secretary (administration and appointment).
Senior advocate Vikas Singh also brought to the court’s notice that the SC collegium had in September recommended elevation of Bombay HC Chief Justice Dipankar Gupta to the apex court but the Centre had not cleared his name, in contrast to other names which were cleared within days.
The apex court had last year framed comprehensive guidelines for time-bound appointment of judges and fixed time periods for all authorities involved in the process to take decisions. It had said the intelligence bureau (IB) should submit its report/inputs within four to six weeks from the date of recommendation of the high court collegium to the Centre, which should forward the file to SC within eight to 12 weeks from the date of receipt of views from the state and IB report. The Chief Justice of India should thereafter send recommendations/advise to the law minister within four weeks and the Centre should make the appointment immediately or can send the recommendation back for reconsideration. If the names are reiterated, then the Centre should make the appointment within three-four weeks.
Observing that the HCs with 40% vacancies are in “a crisis situation”, the apex court had passed the order as there was no timeline prescribed for the central government to forward recommendations which was causing inordinate delay in appointment of judges
Alleging that there was wilful disobedience of the apex court’s 2021 verdict, the petitioner sought contempt proceedings against government officials and a direction for ensuring strict compliance of the timeframe laid down by the court.