A week after the Supreme Court collegium headed by him cleared the last of the pending recommendations from various high court collegiums for appointment of judges, Chief Justice of India Jagdish Singh Khehar has written to chief justices of all high courts asking them to recommend new names at the earliest.
At least three high court chief justices confirmed having received the letter from CJI Khehar, saying it requests them to call a meeting of their collegiums and recommend suitable names.
Sources told The Sunday Express that the CJI had also personally spoken to all the chief justices before writing to them.
The CJI is also learnt to have asked the chief justices to ensure that the integrity of the recommended candidates is “beyond any shadow of doubt”, apart from picking the best among practising advocates. The chief justices have been asked to adhere to the new age criteria — no lawyer below 45 years and above 55 years to be considered for elevation to the bench — while finalising the names.
The CJI’s letter comes even as the government is yet to take a call on the Memorandum of Procedure which was sent to it by the Supreme Court collegium in early March.
It is learnt that the Centre too has sent a dozen-odd names pending with it due to absence of Intelligence Bureau inputs to the CJI so that the collegium can take a decision on these names.
Out of the total sanctioned strength of 1,079, as many as 447 posts of judges are vacant in various high courts. While the government has initiated the process of appointment of the 90 names cleared by the Supreme Court collegium, over 33 per cent of vacancies will still exist.
Almost 50 per cent posts of judges are vacant at the Allahabad High Court, the country’s biggest, with a sanctioned strength of 160. The high court with the second highest vacancies is the Calcutta High Court, where 37 of the total 72 posts are vacant. The High Court of Telangana & Andhra Pradesh, with a sanctioned strength of 61, has 34 posts vacant while the Punjab and Haryana High Court has 39 of the total 85 posts vacant.
However, it is unclear if CJI Khehar, who retires on August 27, will also ask the Supreme Court collegium to recommend names for the three existing vacancies in the apex court. Before the end of this year, the Supreme Court will have six vacancies, with three more judges, including the CJI, scheduled to retire in the next few months.
The other Supreme Court judges who will retire by the end of this year are Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose (May 27) and Justice Prafulla Chandra Pant (August 29).
As first reported by The Indian Express, the Supreme Court collegium has already cleared 90 names for appointment as judges from among the 143 names pending with it.
It is learnt that the government has requested the CJI to ensure more representation to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women in higher judiciary. As of now, there is no SC/ST judge in either the Supreme Court or as chief justice of any high court.