Delay as tactic: On the Centre and Collegium relationship  

Centre should stick to timelines to avoid friction with Collegium

October 17, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 01:26 pm IST

The Centre’s assurance to the Supreme Court that it would soon notify the appointment of Justice Siddharth Mridul of the Delhi High Court as Chief Justice (CJ) of the Manipur High Court is a welcome development. In another sign that it would be more accommodative of the Collegium’s recommendations, it has forwarded as many as 70 names approved by constitutional authorities in various States for appointment as judges of High Courts. The delay in notifying the appointment of Justice Mridul was apparently due to the State government taking time to give its views on the proposal. His name was recommended by the Collegium on July 5, and the delay was quite strange. The Collegium has also mooted the transfer of Justice M.V. Muralidaran, now Acting CJ in Manipur to the Calcutta High Court. A few days ago, it rejected his request that he be either retained in Manipur or allowed to go to his parent court, the Madras High Court. It is to be seen how long the Centre takes to notify his transfer. It was an order passed by Justice Muralidaran, directing the Manipur government to consider the inclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes category, that is seen by some as one of the triggers for the ethnic violence that rocked the State from early May. However, the order was not stayed by the Supreme Court as there was a request by the Centre that a stay order might exacerbate tensions.

The Court has been vocal about the Centre’s selective treatment of its recommendations. There are instances of the government returning names that had been reiterated more than once. In recent times, it has shown that it can have its way by merely ignoring some of the Collegium’s decisions. For instance, it ignored the proposal to appoint Justice S. Muralidhar, now retired, as CJ of the Madras High Court for so long that the Collegium ultimately rescinded its recommendation. In the case of Justice T. Raja, who was Acting CJ in Madras for an unusually long period, the recommendation to transfer him to the Rajasthan High Court was ignored by the government until his retirement. The conflict between the government and the Collegium over the appointment process is quite pronounced and often reaches a flashpoint. It is time the process was streamlined to give effect to the Supreme Court’s April 2021 order that set timelines for the government to process names recommended by the Collegium and express its reservations, if any. Once the Collegium reiterates any recommendation, it should be implemented within three to four weeks. Whatever the inadequacies and failures of the Collegium process, it does not augur well for the institution if the legal position that a reiterated decision is binding on the government is undermined.

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