In its sharpest-ever attack in open court on the NDA government, the Supreme Court on Friday asked whether the Centre intends to bring the entire judiciary to a “grinding halt” by sitting on recommendations of the Collegium for appointment and transfer of judges to High Courts across the country. Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur made it clear to the Centre, represented by Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, that the court would not shy away from a confrontation with the government if driven to a corner.
The CJI cautioned the government that if matters continued in the same vein, the court would be forced to intervene judicially and call for every file of every recommendation forwarded by the Collegium to the government for clearance.
Chief Justice Thakur had made an emotional appeal at a convocation last April in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the rising burden of judges due to vacancies and pendency.
On Friday, he was not satisfied with Mr. Rohatgi’s assurances that the issue would be taken up at the “highest level”.
“Don’t try to bring this institution to a grinding halt... That’s not the right thing to do,” the CJI said.
‘No excuse to paralyse judiciary’
The Bench was hearing a PIL plea filed by war veteran Lt. Col (retd.) Anil Kabotra, who highlighted the “enormous backlog of cases in various courts which has acquired uncontrollable proportions.” He is being represented by advocate Anirudh Singh.
The total pendency is 2.24 crore cases in various courts as of August 12, 2016. There are 478 judicial posts to be filled up in various High Courts. The Supreme Court itself has three vacancies.
The Bench comprising Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, pointed out to the government that “most High Courts are working with only 40 percent of their sanctioned judicial strength and people are languishing in jails for 13 years without a hearing.” “Will you wait till they complete a life sentence?” Chief Justice Thakur asked the government.
Chief Justice Thakur said the government might be working on the draft Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for appointment of judges, but the task did not give them the excuse to paralyse the judiciary by simply sitting on appointments and transfers.
“If you have a problem with a name suggested by us, send the file back to us. We will look into it... This is some kind of a logjam and this whole situation is getting very difficult,” he said.
The Chief Justice’s words marked months of tensions between the SC and the government over appointments in the higher judiciary.