The standoff between the government and the Supreme Court over the appointment of judges saw a two-judge bench question the Attorney General Friday about the status of Collegium recommendations for High Courts. The Attorney General, in turn, said the number of recommendations being made by the Collegium were not enough to fill the large number of vacancies in the High Courts. “Your shortly… can be several months. What are you doing?” a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta asked Attorney General K K Venugopal while hearing a plea related to the shortage of judges in the Manipur High Court.
Assuring the court that appointments to High Courts in the North-East would be made soon, the Attorney General said that will not however resolve the problem of vacancies in all High Courts. “Collegium has to look at the future. Recommendations need to be made keeping in mind vacancies that will arise six months later,” Venugopal said, pointing out that though some High Courts had 40 per cent vacancy, only a few names were being recommended for appointments. “Collegium doesn’t send us the names and the government is told it is being tardy in processing,” he said.
This prompted the bench to ask the Attorney General if he had the data on the pending recommendations of the Collegium for appointments to High Courts. When Venugopal replied in the negative, the bench said “when we ask for data, you don’t have (it). But when it comes to attacking the judiciary, you have the data”.
The petitioner wanted the Supreme Court’s permission to challenge an order of a single judge of the Manipur High Court before the Gauhati High Court. He claimed he could not file an appeal in the Manipur High Court since it had only two judges, one of whom had given the order. The Supreme Court had sought the Attorney General’s assistance in the matter.
Venugopal said that on April 19, the Collegium recommended a name for appointment as Chief Justice of the Manipur High Court. He said he had spoken to the authorities and they had promised that the appointment would be notified “shortly”.
The bench said the situation in the North-East was “critical”. “In Meghalaya, there is only one judge against four. Even Tripura has just two against four. Recommendation was also made for Meghalaya. What happened to that?… People of North-East are suffering… What are they supposed to do? Should they come here to get their cases transferred to other High Courts and spend money to hire lawyers there?” the bench said.
The Attorney General remarked, in a lighter vein, that the National Judicial Appointments Commission — the NJAC Act was invalidated by the Supreme Court in 2015 — may have been more suitable for dealing with the appointment of judges.
Justice Lokur said the bench was only concerned with appointments to High Courts in the North-East and asked the Attorney General to file an affidavit explaining the position.