As concerns mount over the delay in judicial appointments, it is learnt that the file relating to the Supreme Court Collegium’s recommendation on elevating senior advocate Indu Malhotra as a judge of the apex court “is being processed” by the Union Law Ministry.
Official sources told The Indian Express that the Law Ministry had sent Malhotra’s file to the Home Ministry for mandatory verification by the Intelligence Bureau. The IB, sources said, submitted its report and the Law Ministry had received it from the Home Ministry.
On January 10, the five-member Collegium, comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, unanimously cleared the names of Malhotra and Uttarakhand Chief Justice K M Joseph for appointment as judges of the Supreme Court.
The delay in their appointments gave rise to speculation and allegations that the government was sitting on the proposal as it was not in favour of Justice K M Joseph who, in 2016, had quashed imposition of President’s rule in Uttarakhand.
On April 9, Justice Kurian Joseph voiced concern in a letter to CJI Misra and other fellow judges. He said three months had passed since the Collegium made the recommendations but nothing had moved on it.
“To my limited information, it is the first time in the history of this Court where nothing is known as to what has happened to a recommendation even after three months. Government owes a duty to take a call on the recommendation as soon as the same is sent from the Collegium. Failure to discharge their duty by sitting over on the recommendations of the Collegium doing nothing, in administrative law, is abuse of power. More than anything else, it sends a wrong message which is loud and clear to all Judges down the line not to cause any displeasure to the Executive lest they should suffer. Is this not a threat to the independence of the judiciary?” his letter stated.
The CJI too had taken up the question of judicial appointments with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the two met for the meeting of the Lokpal selection committee earlier this month.
With the appointment process delayed, Malhotra, who had stayed away from the court for a while following the January 10 recommendation, was back in the apex court. She, however, said she had not withdrawn her consent for the proposed elevation.
Since Justice K M Joseph is a sitting judge, no further IB clearance is required in his case.
The Supreme Court is currently functioning with only 24 judges as against a sanctioned strength of 31. With more retirements due this year, the strength will deplete further unless appointments are made quickly.