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Despite SC Collegium’s ‘Historical’ Move To Fill Vacancies In HCs, Centre Shows No Alacrity

The Supreme Court of India.

BETWEEN August 17 and September 9, the Supreme Court collegium (SCC) recommended almost a hundred names – lawyers, judicial officers and one Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) member – for elevation to the benches of the various high courts. The move of the SCC to clear so many names in one go was dubbed historical by many.

However, in what could give rise to yet another round of confrontation with the Supreme Court, the Centre has been sitting on almost all names, with the only appointments notified by the Union government were on September 6, when it appointed six additional judges of Karnataka HC as permanent judges of the same HC. Their cases had been cleared by the SCC on August 17.

Incidentally, less than 48 hours after the SCC recommendations were made public, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, while speaking at an event where Union Law and Justice Minister Kiren Rijiju was also present, had expressed the hope that the Centre would clear all pending cases with the same alacrity with which it processed the nine names for appointment to the Supreme Court.

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Sources in the Supreme Court told India Ahead News that the delay was “unwarranted” and “inexplicable”.

“If you go by the figures, out of 1,098 posts of judges in the high courts, 459 are vacant, which means over 40 per cent posts are vacant. The delay by the government is inexplicable and unwarranted. While this isn’t the first time such a thing is happening, one would have expected that in view of the ongoing pandemic, the government would speed up the appointment process so that judicial infrastructure is improved,” said the source, who chose not to be identified.

Among the cases recommended by the SCC on September 1, 2021 and which are yet to be notified are those from Madras HC (four advocates), Kerala HC four advocates), Jharkhand HC (five judicial officers), Calcutta HC (five judicial officers and two advocates), Rajasthan HC (three judicial officers), Gauhati HC (three lawyers and two judicial officers), Chhattisgarh HC (one lawyer and one judicial officer), Kerala HC (four judicial officers), J&K and Ladakh HC (two judicial officers), Madhya Pradesh HC (one advocate), Allahabad HC (13 lawyers) and Punjab and Haryana HC (four advocates).

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Earlier, on August 17, the SCC had recommended the names of six judicial officers and one ITAT member for elevation to the bench of Telangana HC.

In the meantime, the Centre has processed the appointment of names that were recommended much later.

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The SCC, on September 7, recommended the appointment of two additional judges of Kerala HC and 10 additional judges of Karnataka High Court as permanent judges. Their cases are also pending.

Incidentally, the cases pending with the government include the 13 names reiterated by the Supreme Court collegium, names which had been sent back for reconsideration by the government on some grounds.

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On September 1, the SCC had also reiterated its earlier recommendation to appoint nine lawyers and three judicial officers to the benches of various HCs. These include advocates Farzand Ali in Rajasthan HC, advocates Jaytosh Majumdar, Amitesh Banerjee, Raja Basu Chowdhury and Lapita Banerji in Calcutta HC, Rahul Bharti and Moksha Kazmi (Khajuria) in J&K HC and Nagendra R Naik and Aditya Sondhi in Karnataka HC . The three judicial officers whose cases were reiterated by the SCC on September 1 are Om Prakash Tripathi, Umesh Chandra Sharma and Syed Waiz Mian, all from Allahabad HC.

But, if the delay in processing these cases in inexplicable, more perplexing, sources in the Supreme Court say, is the delay by the government in processing the appointment of Jammu & Kashmir lawyer Wasim Sadiq Nargal, whose name was recommended by the Jammu & Kashmir High Court collegium on 24 August 2017 and who has been recommended thrice by the Supreme Court, possibly a historic first in the annals of Indian judicial system.

Nargal’s name, which had been sent back for reconsideration for the second time even though the memorandum of procedure (MoP), which guides appointments in higher judiciary, clearly says that once a name has been reconsidered and reiterated by the SCC, the Centre has no option but to process it, was reiterated for the second time in March this year.

Nothing has been heard yet as to why the Centre is dragging its feet over his appointment even though there is nothing adverse against him.

“His case is pending for over four years while those recommended much later have been cleared. It is strange is all I can say,” said the Supreme Court source cited above.

The source also wondered if the Centre wasn’t processing the names expeditiously because of the caveat included in the minutes by the SCC – that names cleared earlier by the SCC should be processed before names cleared now so that seniority of the new appointees could be ensured.

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