New Delhi: A Supreme Court bench Friday sought explanation from the Centre as to why there was a delay in processing names recommended by the apex court collegium for appointment as judges to the top court and high courts.
The SC especially asked why those names that were reiterated, despite the central government’s objections, were not processed yet.
“Post second reiteration, only the appointment has to be issued. Keeping names on hold is not acceptable. It is becoming some sort of a device to compel these persons to withdraw their names as has happened,” a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Abhay S Oka observed, while issuing a notice to the law secretary.
The court was hearing a contempt petition filed by the Advocates Association, Bengaluru, stating that delay in clearing names suggested by the SC collegium for appointments was in gross violation of the top court’s April 2021 judgment in which it had suggested that reiterated names must be cleared by the Centre within three to four weeks.
In its petition filed last year, the Advocates Association also said the Centre had not approved 11 names reiterated by the Supreme Court collegium.
Friday’s order comes days after Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju called the collegium system of appointing judges “opaque” and “not accountable”. The minister also said after the Supreme Court had struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), the government could have taken other steps, but it respected the apex court’s decision.
“Across the globe, judges do not appoint judges. But in India, they do so. Judges have to devote a lot of time to the entire process of recommending names. A lot of politics is involved in the process,” he said at the India Today Conclave in Mumbai.
During the hearing Friday, the bench observed that the 11 reiterated names were pending with the Centre, and it has neither approved nor returned them. “Such practice of withholding approval is unacceptable,” the court said.
It added, “This implies that the government neither appoints the names nor communicates its reservations, if any.”
Long wait for judges
The SC judges voiced their concern over “eminent persons” withdrawing their consent for judgeship due to the delay in clearing their names.
“Keeping names on hold is not acceptable. It is becoming some sort of a device to compel these persons to withdraw their consent, as has happened,” the court noted.
The court also referred to the death of advocate Jaytosh Majumdar, whose name was cleared by the SC collegium for Calcutta High Court.
In February, senior advocate Aditya Sondhi, practicing at the Karnataka High Court, had withdrawn consent for his elevation as judge. In an interview with ThePrint earlier, he said that no member of the Bar deserves to be strung along indefinitely. While his name remained pending for approval, two others that were recommended along with him were cleared.
Sondhi’s withdrawal is also mentioned in the petition that was taken up for hearing Friday. The top court stressed that after the collegium reiterated a candidate’s name, the only option before the Centre was to issue the appointment order. In some cases, the Centre sought reconsideration, and despite second reiteration, some names remained pending.
Appearing for the Supreme Court Bar Association, senior advocate Vikas Singh pointed out that the Centre has not yet acted upon the SC collegium’s recommendation to elevate Justice Dipankar Dutta to the Supreme Court. This proposal was sent to the government five weeks ago.
“Needless to say that, unless the bench is adorned by competent judges, the very process of law and justice suffers…Vikas Singh states that even an appointment to the Supreme Court has been kept pending for over a month, we are unable to understand the reasons for the delay,” read the court order.