Transfers of judges are 'languishing on somebody's desk,' SC tells govt

Updated - January 02, 2017 04:33 pm IST

Published - January 02, 2017 04:32 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court on Monday accused the Centre of allowing transfers of Chief Justices and judges of various High Courts “languish on somebody's desk” for months together, even as senior advocates, including Ram Jethmalani, urged 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 Gujarat High Court judge, Justice M.R. Shah, whose transfer to Madhya Pradesh High Court has been kept pending since February 2016.

“Why has the government not cleared this one file (Justice Shah's) when other files dated prior, post and simultaneous to this file has already been processed?” Mr. Oza submitted, 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? You cannot allow this kind of an attitude from the government. Government needs to be taught a lesson,” Mr. Jethmalani submitted.

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

“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,” Chief Justice Thakur addressed Mr. Rohatgi.

Chief Justice Thakur asked why the government has 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 that he is continuing because 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 shown by the government has given rise to “grave apprehensions and misgivings” within the legal community.

Countering that there no file pending with the government, Mr. Rohatgi submitted that the State High Courts' judiciary is largely to blames for the delay in filling up of their vacancies. He said the State High Courts tend to start the process of judicial appointments late, sometimes sitting on vacancies for years.

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

Mr. Rohatgi said the present status of judicial appointments is that 43 of a total 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 in the 43, three have been deferred while decision on three other names are still pending with the Collegium.

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