The Supreme Court on Tuesday warned the Centre against any further delay in clearing the collegium’s recommendations for the appointment and transfer of high court judges over the past nine months, saying: “Next time I may not be quiet.”
Recommendations on as many as 70 judges, including the regular chief justice of a “sensitive” high court, have been hanging fire.
A visibly annoyed Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who was heading the bench and is also the second seniormost member of the collegium after Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, made it clear that the top court would brook no further delay: “Today I am quiet because the attorney-general (R. Venkataramani) says he wants one-week time. Next time I may not be quiet.”
The court adjourned the matter for further hearing to October 9 upon a request from the AG for a week’s time to respond to the bench’s anguish over the delay.
The Supreme Court collegium had as far back as June 5 recommended the name of Delhi High Court’s second senior-most judge, Justice Sidharth Mridul, as the regular chief justice of Manipur High Court. Manipur has been in the throes of severe unrest since May 3. Justice Maniampattu Vajjiravelu Muralidaran has been functioning as the acting chief justice since February 6. The Centre, however, has been sitting on the recommendation.
“There were 80 recommendations pending last week, while 10 of the names were cleared last week, now the figure is 70, of which 26 recommendations are for transfer of judges, seven are reiteration, nine cases are pending without being returned to the collegium and one case is the appointment of the chief justice of a sensitive high court,” the bench, which included Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, told AG Venkataramani.
The bench was dealing with applications moved by the Bangalore Advocates Association, Supreme Court Bar Association and the NGO Common Cause challenging the Centre’s blocking of the collegium’s recommendations despite reiterations.
At the last four hearings in 2022 and in February this year too, the bench had pulled up the government for delaying the appointments and transfers of judges. According to the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) that governs judicial appointments and transfers, once the collegium reiterates its recommendation, the Centre has no option but to comply.
The apex court had earlier objected to the fact that despite the MoP being clear on the issue, the Centre continues to dilly-dally on the process of appointments and transfers.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Common Cause, said that a large number of bright advocates who had been recommended for elevation as judges had withdrawn their names because of the delay.
Bhushan also complained that the Narendra Modi government had developed a tendency to segregate the recommendations of the collegium and clearing names in a pick-and-choose manner. In the process not only the seniority of candidates is getting affected, but the morale of those whose names are not cleared is also taking a beating and they are withdrawing their candidature, Bhushan said.
Justice Kaul agreed with Bhushan’s submission. “I agree with you that the way some of the good and bright candidates withdraw their consent to be a judge is really worrisome,” he said.