In what could set the stage for a fresh round of confrontation between the judiciary and the government, the Supreme Court collegium met today to discuss and recommend names for appointment to the apex court and some high courts.
This meeting assumes significance because it comes less than a week after Union Law Minister indicated that the government won’t clear any fresh recommendations of the collegium until the public interest litigation challenging the validity of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, 2014, is disposed of.
Sources told The Indian Express that the decision to hold a meeting of the five-judge collegium was taken by Chief Justice H L Dattu in consultation with senior judges. They were of the view that since the government has so far not notified the NJAC Act as well as the Constitution amendment Bill, which provides for establishment of the NJAC to replace the collegium system, there was no bar on the collegium meeting clearing names for elevation to the Supreme Court or appointments to various high courts.
While the collegium had also met two weeks ago, no names were finalised for appointment to the Supreme Court which has three vacancies. Another vacancy will arise on March 14 when Justice S J Mukhopadhya retires.
It is learnt that on the agenda of the collegium today was a proposal for appointment of Chief Justices of some High Courts, which don’t have full-time Chief Justices. Of the 24 High Courts in the country, seven have acting CJs: Gujarat, Kerala, Punjab and Haryana, Gauhati, Meghalaya, Rajasthan and Sikkim.
The collegium also has to take a call on recommendations that have come from collegiums of various High Courts for appointments to High Courts. There are 347vacant posts of judges in various High Courts.
Last week, The Economic Times had quoted Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda as saying that “there will not be any appointment of judges to the Supreme Court or High Courts until two public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, 2014, are disposed of”.
Gowda had also reportedly said that the Modi government had put on hold framing rules or nominating two eminent persons to the proposed NJAC which will be chaired by the CJI. Gowda’s assertion was in contrast to the stand taken by CJI Dattu while talking to the media that appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts under the collegium system would continue till the government put in place the new commission to replace it.
President Pranab Mukherjee had granted assent to the NJAC Bill and the Constitutional Amendment Bill on December 31 last year. However, at least three PILs have been filed since then challenging the constitutionality of the new law. The petitions are yet to be taken up by the Supreme Court.