Before elections,Govt to appoint 60 new HC judges,says code not in way

Before the UPA government bows out of office,it would have created a unique record.....

Written by Maneesh Chhibber | New Delhi | Published:March 9, 2009 1:23 am

Before the UPA government bows out of office,it would have created a unique record: of having made the maximum number of appointments to the higher judiciary by any government.

In the last three years alone,it has cleared the appointment of 247 judges,15 of them to the Supreme Court. In fact,between now and mid-April,when the elections start,the government hopes to appoint at least 60-65 more judges to various High Courts.

To begin with,President Pratibha Patil on March 4 cleared the appointment of new Chief Justices (CJ) for the High Courts of Allahabad,Patna,Kerala,Gauhati and Rajasthan.

“Names of new judges have already been cleared by the respective High Court collegiums. We are working over-time to get the warrants of appointments of all new judges issued by the President before the elections,” a senior officer of the Union Law and Justice Ministry told The Indian Express.

Asked if the election code of conduct would come in the way of issuance of warrants of appointments of new judges,the Law Ministry officer replied in the negative. “These are Constitutional appointments and are being made on the recommendation of the SC collegium. The code of conduct will not stop the President from issuing the warrants,” the officer said.

In fact,this government also holds the record for most appointments to the superior judiciary in a single year — 110 new judges in 2006. But if things move as per the Law Ministry’s plan,2009 could well be the year when the government appoints the maximum number of judges.

In what is a clear indication of its intent,the Law Minister is also learnt to have written to Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishanan to expedite the matter of recommending seven names to fill the available vacancies in the 31-Judge Supreme Court — two by retirement and five new posts created by Parliament during the winter session.

The government is keen that seniority among Chief Justices of various High Courts be the foremost criteria when the Supreme Court collegium recommends seven names for elevation to the apex court.

As per record,Uttarakhand HC Chief Justice (CJ) Vinod Kumar Gupta is the senior-most CJ in the country,having been appointed to the post in 2000. He is followed by Delhi HC Chief Justice A P Shah,who became CJ in 2005,and Madhya Pradesh HC Chief Justice A K Patnaik,who was appointed CJ in 2005.

Despite their seniority,all three had been overlooked late last year when the SC collegium recommended names of three CJs — all junior to them — for elevation to the apex court.

The SC collegium refused to reconsider its recommendation even after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent back the file containing the names,leaving the government with no other choice but to clear the three names sent by the SC.

Sometime back,the Ministry had written to the Chief Justices of Allahabad,Gujarat,Andhra Pradesh and Punjab and Haryana HCs and requested them to expedite the process of recommending names for elevation to the bench.

According to available information,as of now,the Centre is working on clearing the cases for appointment of 20 judges to the Allahabad HC,14 to the Madras HC,13 to the Calcutta HC and 10 to Patna HC. Other HCs which could get new judges soon include Chhattisgarh (6),Bombay (4),Delhi (8),Rajasthan (3),and Karnataka (2).

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