The Supreme Court on Friday recorded a submission by Attorney General R. Venkataramani that warrants of appointment of five judges to the apex court will be likely issued by February 5.
“It is happening… The five warrants of appointment are being issued… It goes to the President by evening. They will be issued,” Mr. Venkataramani said.
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The Collegium had recommended Rajasthan High Court Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal, Patna High Court Chief Justice Sanjay Karol, Manipur High Court Chief Justice P V Sanjay Kumar, Patna High Court judge Ahsanuddin Amanullah and Allahabad High Court judge Manoj Misra to the Supreme Court on December 13, 2022. They have been pending with the government for nearly two months.
The Collegium had further proposed Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court Rajesh Bindal and Gujarat High Court Chief Justice Aravind Kumar to the government for appointment as apex court judges on January 31. The appointment of all seven would see the court function with its full sanctioned strength of 34 judges.
“The five recommendations were made in December, we are in February… You are saying, and we have faith in you, that the warrants will be issued. That ‘it is happening’... ‘When’ is the next question,” a Bench of Justices SK Kaul and AS Oka asked the top law officer.
“By Sunday, they will be issued… it is happening,” Mr. Venkataramani said, hesitant to be pinned down to a specific day as the court hearing progressed.
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“’Happening, happened, will happen’... When things have not been happening for years together, we do not want you to give a date, but tell us in how many days it will happen… two days, three days, four days? There may be an ‘unexpected delay’. I am asking you on the judicial side. How many days should we record in our order? Can we say five days… You said by Sunday, we are giving you a longer leeway,” Justice Kaul asked.
“With a sense of responsibility I am saying, the five warrants will be issued. It is happening,” Mr. Venkataramani said.
“Happening ‘shortly’ then?” Justice Kaul asked.
10 days to clear High Court judge transfers
The court further put the government on an ultimatum, giving it 10 days to clear Supreme Court Collegium recommendations on transfer of High Court judges and High Court appointments, especially pending appointments of High Court Chief Justices.
“Mr. Attorney, something has greatly disturbed us, if the transfer order of judges is not implemented… what do you want us to do? If you keep them pending… you will make us take some very, very difficult decisions,” Justice Kaul said.
Mr. Venkataramani urged the court to give him more time. The court told the government not to compel it to take judicial or administrative action and make things “uncomfortable”.
“One of the Chief Justices is demitting office in 19 days, you want him to go without becoming a Chief Justice?” Justice Kaul asked.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan highlighted cases in which the government has not appointed judges despite repeated reiterations by the Collegium.
When advocate Amit Pai pointed to the “attack” made by public authorities on the judiciary, the Bench said the court is not affected beyond a particular stage by these remarks. It said the focus should be on the more important issue of filling up judicial vacancies in the courts. Mr. Pai was referring to disparaging comments made by Law Minister Kiren Rijiju about the Collegium system of judicial appointments upheld by the court in the NJAC judgment of 2015.
“We are used to handling this from all sides… It is for authorities to see what they say is appropriate or inappropriate,” Justice Kaul said.
Supreme Court Bar Association president, senior advocate Vikas Singh, conveyed the Bar’s approval of the Collegium’s four-page resolution on January 31 in which it gave no room for the government to tinker with seniority of recommended names either bifurcating them or by appointing one over the other.
“The names [five judges to the apex court] recommended earlier by the Collegium by its resolution dated December 13, 2022 shall have precedence over the two names [Justices Bindal and Kumar] recommended presently for appointment to the Supreme Court. Therefore, the appointments of five judges recommended on December 13, 2022 should be notified separately and earlier in point of time before the two judges recommended by this resolution,” the five-member Collegium headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, and including Justices Kaul, K.M. Joseph, M.R. Shah and Ajay Rastogi, had clarified in its January 31 resolution.
The court scheduled the next hearing on February 13.