Centre stalling judicial transfers: SC

Recommendations of the Collegium cannot be allowed to languish on somebody’s desk, says CJI

January 03, 2017 12:33 am | Updated 12:35 am IST - NEW DELHI

 A view of Supreme Court of India building in New Delhi.

A view of Supreme Court of India building in New Delhi.

The Supreme Court on Monday accused the Centre of allowing transfers of Chief Justices and judges of various High Courts to “languish on somebody’s desk” for months together, even as senior advocates, including Ram Jethmalani, told the apex court that it is “time the judiciary taught the government a lesson.”

Appearing before a Bench of Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Mr. Jethmalani and senior advocate Yatin Oza referred to the case of Justice M.R. Shah of the Gujarat High Court, whose transfer to the Madhya Pradesh High Court had been kept pending since February 2016.

“Why has the government not cleared this one file when other files dated prior, post and simultaneous to this file have already been processed,” asked Mr. Oza, interrupting Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi who said Justice Shah’s transfer was under process.

Mr. Oza called the phrase “under process” an “ornamental reply.” “I do not want to say anything more in the presence of journalists in this courtroom, but I am compelled to inform Your Lordships that the Gujarat judiciary has gone to the dogs because of all this.”

“Why is the government so anxious to keep that man [Justice Shah] there?” Mr. Jethmalani asked. “You cannot allow this kind of an attitude from the government. The government needs to be taught a lesson.”

In an intervention, counsel from Karnataka stood up to say that the State High Court was functioning with only about a half of its sanctioned strength of 62 judges.

Chief Justice Thakur then addressed Mr. Rohatgi. “What is happening? The recommendations of the Collegium cannot be allowed to languish on somebody’s desk. If you do not agree with a name, send the file back to us.”

Status report sought

Chief Justice Thakur wanted to know why the government had stalled the transfers of High Court Chief Justices and judges. “How will a litigant view a judge who is continuing his judicial work when he is already under transfer to another High Court? The litigant will think somebody wants him to do so.”

Seeking a status report from the Centre on the pending transfers of HC judges in the next three weeks, the court noted that the delay on the part of the government had given rise to “grave apprehensions and misgivings” within the legal community.

Mr. Rohatgi said there were no files pending with the government. The judiciary of the State High Courts was largely to blame for the delay in filling up the vacancies. The State High Courts tended to start the process of judicial appointments late, sometimes sitting on vacancies for years, he said.

The Attorney-General repeated his earlier submission that the process of judicial appointments was like a race. “If you start on time, you end on time.”

Mr. Rohatgi said 43 of a total of 77 names were returned to the Collegium by the government for reconsideration. The Collegium had reiterated its recommendation for 37 in November last year. Of the remaining six names, decision had been deferred on three and a decision on three others was pending with the Collegium.

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