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Centre is trying to decimate judiciary: SC

DELHI, 23/11/2013: FILE photo: Supreme Court of India. New Delhi on Saturday. Photo: Monica Tiwari  

Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur on Friday said the Union government did not keep its promise that filling up judicial vacancies is its “topmost priority”, and accused the government of trying to starve the cause of justice by not appointing judges and locking courtrooms en masse.

In an open court hearing on Friday, a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Thakur accused the government of trying to "decimate the judiciary and lock justice out".

"In Karnataka HC, an entire floor of courts are locked because there are no judges. Once we had a situation where we had judges but no court rooms. But now there are courtrooms but no judges," Chief Justice Thakur told Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi.

"You may now as well close court rooms down and lock justice out," the Chief Justice said, before relapsing into a few moments of silence as he looked on at the assembled courtroom.

"There is a lot of passion on both sides in this matter", he said, adding that no action was taken for the past nine months since a Constitution Bench scrapped the NJAC law and asked the government to frame a new Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for Judicial Appointments.

"Nothing is happening. For nine months, the names the Collegium gave you have been languishing with you... you have been sitting over the names. What are you waiting for? Some change in the system? Some revolution in the system?" the Chief Justice said.

He said how in the Allahabad High Court, the Collegium had recommended 18 judges for appointment and the government chose eight out of them and now wants only two of the eight.

Initially, the Bench ordered the secretaries concerned with judicial appointments in the Justice Department and the Prime Minister's Office to appear in the court in person with records. But the Bench later retracted this order.

"We don't want a situation where institutions will clash. This is not about anybody's ego. This is not personal. This is about institutions suffering," the Chief Justice Thakur said.

Mr. Rohatgi countered that the law provided for an MoP to be finalised before appointments are made.

"The MoP is your red herring. The Law Minister and the government has repeatedly told us that the process of finalisation of MoP will not stall judicial appointments process. Now are you saying that there is a deadlock on the MoP and you want it cleared first before appointing judges?" Justice Thakur asked.

If the government had wanted the MoP cleared first, it should have told the NJAC Bench and not now, when it was party to the appointment of several judges post the NJAC judgment.

"If everything can be done without MoP, why do you need the MoP in the first place?" Mr. Rohatgi said.

"Who said there is no MoP now... appointments are being made now as per the old system... Our tolerant approach seems to be not working. If you go on like this, we will re-convene a five-judge bench and say that the government will not be allowed to scuttle judicial appointments till it frames a new MoP... do you want that?" the Chief Justice Thakur asked the government side.

The court has asked the government to resolve and get back to the court on November 11, the next date of hearing.

In an August 8 hearing, the Supreme Court launched its sharpest attack on the government in open court. The Chief Justice bluntly asked the government whether it was trying to bring the entire judicial institution to a "grinding halt" by sitting on recommendations of the Supreme Court Collegium on appointment and transfer of judges to High Courts.

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