New Delhi: At a time when the judiciary and the government are in a tussle over the process in which judges are appointed, the law ministry said in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, February 2, that as of January 31, the government has sent back 18 names that were proposed by the Supreme Court collegium to be appointed as judges.
The law minister gave this information in response to a question from Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP John Brittas. The MP asked about the number of proposals reiterated by the Supreme Court collegium and actions taken on these, as also the number of returned proposals concurred with by the Collegium.
Union law minister Kiren Rijiju responded that as of January 31, 2023 there were 18 proposals on which reconsideration of the SC collegium has been sought. He added that the collegium decided to reiterate 6 cases; sought “updated inputs” from high court collegiums in 7 cases; and has remitted 5 cases to the high courts.
The MP also asked about the vacancies in the Supreme Court for which the collegium has yet to recommend names to the government; and the number of recommendations that are pending with the government.
Rijiju submitted that as on January 30, 2023, as against the sanctioned strength of 34 judges, 27 were working in the Supreme Court and there were seven vacancies. He said the collegium “recently made 7 recommendations to fill up all the vacancies”.
In response to other questions, the minister said that against the sanctioned strength of 1,108 judges in various high courts, 775 judges are working and 333 posts are vacant. He added that “142 proposals recommended by the high court collegiums are at various stages of processing”. Out of these, just four were pending with the Supreme Court collegium and 138 “are under various stages of processing in the Government”.
In a separate question asked by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP Raghav Chadha, the minister elaborated on the high court judge proposals pending with the government. He said that 67 proposals recommended by high court collegiums are in the “process of being sent” to the Supreme Court collegiums, while 64 recommendations that were recommended by the Supreme Court collegium are “under various stages of processing”. He added that 11 proposals were deferred by the SC collegium.
The minister also revealed that as on January 30, “recommendations in respect of 236 vacancies (191 existing and 45 anticipated vacancies during next 6 months) are yet to be received from High Court Collegiums, which are in breach of six months’ advance timeline for making recommendation for anticipated vacancies.”
Rijiju also submitted details of the process involved in a written reply. He stated that “as per existing Memorandum of Procedure on the appointment of High Court Judges, the proposal is initiated by the Chief Justice of the High Court in consultation with two senior-most puisne Judges of the High Court.”
The minister added that “the views of State Constitutional Authorities on the proposals are also obtained” and the Union law minister considers the recommendations in the light of other reports available with the government.
“The complete material is then forwarded to the Chief Justice of India for his advice. Accordingly, the Government sends all proposals received from the High Court Collegiums to the Supreme Court Collegium (SCC) for advice. Government appoints only those persons whose names have been recommended by the SCC as Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts,” he further submitted.
Collegium recently made public Centre’s reasons
The government has over the past few months been critical of the collegium system, through which judges to the apex court and high courts are appointed, and has been seeking a greater say in the matter.
Recently the collegium for the first time made public the reasons cited by the Union government in turning down its recommendations. In a subsequent resolution proposing two judges to be appointed to the top court, the collegium – again for the first time – detailed why the recommendations were made. These moves at greater transparency come after Rijiju said that the system was “opaque” and there was no accountability.