Taking on the Centre for sitting over appointments of High Court judges, Chief Justice of India TS Thakur on Saturday asserted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government’s attitude was lackadaisical from the very issue of filling vacancies to providing adequate infrastructure. Stating that there are 500 judges’ posts lying vacant in High Courts, Thakur said that courtrooms are lying vacant without judges. He further said that in principle, the judiciary was not against the formation of Tribunals because it would relieve court duties, but the problem arose from the lack of adequate infrastructure provided to the Tribunals.
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“Tribunals are not equipped and are lying empty. Today a situation has come that when no retired Supreme Court judge wants to head the Tribunal. I am pained to send my retired colleagues there. Government is not ready to give proper facilities. Vacancy apart from infrastructure is a major concern for the Tribunal,” Thakur said.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that Thakur’s views were not personal since he spoke as the head of an institution, adding that the judiciary was helpless because even though it has vast powers, the actualisation of those powers and directives depends on the executive government.
The Centre and the top court have been at war since the Supreme Court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, which was brought in to end more than 20-year-old practice of judges appointing judges under the collegium system, with government having no say in the process.
Earlier, the Centre had conveyed to Supreme Court that it had returned to the collegium or its reconsideration of 43 of the 77 names recommended for the appointment of judges in various High Courts and that the remaining 34 have been appointed as judges.
On October 28, the apex court had lashed out at the NDA government for failing to appoint judges in various High Courts despite the collegium clearing some of the names more than nine months ago, in which a livid Thakur told Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi, “You can as well close down the courts. Close down justice”.
“Today we have a situation where courtrooms are locked because there are no judges. For example, Karnataka where one floor is shut. Why don’t you lock the courts and lock out justice? Executive inaction is decimating the institution,” the CJI had said.
Addressing a joint conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts earlier in April, Justice Thakur had made an emotional plea to the government to help upgrade judicial infrastructure and start addressing the glaring problem of shortage of judges.
The CJI broke down in front of the Prime Minister and said in a choked voice that he regretted “inaction” on the government’s part in strengthening judicial infrastructure and increasing the judge-population ratio to tackle the “avalanche” of cases.