In a scathing attack on the Centre for delaying the appointment of judges, the Calcutta High Court has warned of “appropriate action” if urgent steps are not taken on it, while asking whether the nation could think of the Parliament functioning with half its strength.
The “continued silence” of the Centre on appointing judges, despite concerns over the dearth in their numbers, would “certainly be viewed seriously as interference in the course of administration of justice,” it said. “Immediate action is called for to appoint maximum number of judges to prevent the justice delivery system from collapsing, which seems to be imminent,” a division bench comprising Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice D P Dey said, pointing out that the functional strength of judges in the high court was 34 compared with a sanctioned strength of 72.
“Today, this court has a functional strength of 34 judges only. The present functional strength is, therefore, a little less than 50 per cent of the sanctioned strength,” it said. “This Bench is of the opinion that the concerns expressed in this order should reach the Hon’ble Law Minister of the Union immediately so that the matter relating to appointment of Judges in this Court is given topmost priority,” the bench said, adding that “the politeness of this Bench may not be understood as weakness on its part to be firm.”
“It is made clear that continued silence of the Central Government in the matter of appointment of Judges in the near future despite the concerns expressed in this order, would certainly be viewed seriously as interference in the course of administration of justice and followed by appropriate action as authorised in law,” the court cautioned.
Expressing serious displeasure at the country’s oldest high court being handicapped by a massive shortage of judges, the Bench said, “The bar and the litigant public have been tolerant so long, but this Bench cannot remain a silent spectator waiting for the inevitable ire to explode.”
The directions and observations came in the light of the Bench’s failure to hear an anticipatory bail prayer more than a month after it was filed on June 5. The prayer was disposed of by the bench on July 12 as infructuous as the petitioner was arrested on July 6.
The bench noted that by February 2018, ten judges of the court will retire, thus bringing down the strength to 24, if no fresh appointment was made by that time. “Working at less than 50 per cent strength, disposal of proceedings in this court have been quite high in the sense that it is comparable with disposals of high courts functioning with greater strength of judges. Nonetheless, it cannot to be doubted that whatever is being achieved is far below the expectations of the litigants,” the order said.
“Can the nation think of the Lok Sabha in a functional state with half of its elected members? Similarly, can Legislative Assemblies function at half-strength? The answer cannot be in the affirmative,” the bench asked. “The Lok Sabha and/or the Legislative Assemblies are important constitutional entities and it would be a disgrace for the largest democracy of the world if elections were not conducted on time,” it said.
It also asked whether it could be found that the bureaucracy was functioning “years after years without sufficient personnel? No time is spared in making the necessary appointments at the right time to ensure its smooth functioning. This bench is thus left to wonder as to why only in respect of filling up of vacancies in the high courts, which are also high constitutional authorities, there is such a brazen apathy and indifference of the political executive,” the bench wondered.