The appointment of Delhi High Court judge, Justice Siddharth Mridul, as the Chief Justice of Manipur High Court, remains in limbo six weeks after the Supreme Court Collegium proposed his name on July 5.
The Manipur High Court is presently functioning under Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidharan. The office of the Chief Justice had fallen vacant in February 2023, following the elevation of Justice P.V. Sanjay Kumar to the Supreme Court.
Within days of the Collegium recommending Justice Mridul, Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud had in open court, while hearing petitions concerning the ethnic violence which has rocked the State, said that a regular Chief Justice would be appointed soon to the State High Court.
Justice Mridul’s file had been sent by the Centre to the Manipur Government for consent. However, nothing further was heard of it in the public domain.
The apex court’s Constitution Bench in the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association versus Union of India, also popularly known as the ‘Second Judges Case’, has held that the consultation process should be completed within a stipulated time of six weeks. In case any constitutional functionary delays consent beyond the stipulated time, the consent is “deemed”. However, the Memorandum of Procedure does not mention ‘deemed consent’ or a six-week period.
“Adherence to a time-bound schedule would prevent any undue delay and avoid dilatory methods in the appointment process. On initiation of the proposal by the Chief Justice of India or the Chief Justice of the High Court, as the case may be, failure of any other constitutional functionary to express its opinion within the specified period should be construed to mean the deemed agreement of that functionary with the recommendation, and the President is expected to make the appointment in accordance with the final opinion of the Chief Justice of India,” the 1993 judgment had directed.
The judgment said that after expiry of the specified time within which all the constitutional functionaries were to give their opinion, the Chief Justice of India is expected to request the President to make the appointment without any further delay, the process of consultation being complete.
“On initiation of the proposal by the Chief Justice of India or the Chief Justice of the High Court, as the case may be, copies should be sent simultaneously to all the other constitutional functionaries involved. Within the period of six weeks from receipt of the same, the other functionaries must convey their opinion to the Chief Justice of India,” the judgment said.
In case any of the functionaries involved disagree or change their opinion about a candidate, the dissent should be conveyed within the six-week period.
The Chief Justice of India would then form his final opinion and convey it to the President within four weeks, for final action to be taken.
On July 5, the Collegium had found Justice Mridul “fit and suitable in all respects for being appointed as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Manipur”. The 1993 judgment had upheld the primacy of the Chief Justice of India in the judicial appointments process. It said the Chief Justice of India was the “most competent, dependable and eminent person” to know about the merits of his colleagues, judges and advocates.