The Supreme Court on Friday rapped the government for not appointing judges despite recommendations made by the collegium in this regard.
"There should not be a deadlock in appointment of judges. You (Centre) cannot bring the institution to a grinding halt," said the top court hearing a petition concerning the delay in the appointment of judges to various high courts.
The bench is hearing a public interest litigation seeking a direction to the government to speed up judicial appointment process in 24 high courts, which together have more than 450 vacancies against the sanctioned strength of 1041.
"You are scuttling the working of the institution,” the bench told the government for sitting over files relating to judicial appointments.
"In Karnataka HC, an entire floor of courts are locked because there are no judges. You want to lock justice out. For Allahabad HC, the Collegium recommended 18 names for judges, you chose eight. And now you want only two of the eight,” Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur said.
This was neither an ego clash nor was it personal. "We don’t want to clash with you. But if you go on like this, we will form a five-judge Bench and say you are scuttling appointment,” he said.
"There should not be a deadlock in appointment of judges. You [Centre] cannot bring the institution to a grinding halt,” he said.
The apex court is particularly peeved at the pendency of 35 appointments it had cleared for the Allahabad High Court the first batch of eight on January 28 and the second for appointment of 27 judges in August. Both are yet to be notified.
The Allahabad High Court is functioning with less than 50 % of its strength with just 77 judges against the approved strength of 160. These appointments assume significance considering that the country's largest high court accounts for about 25% of nearly 40 lakh cases pending in all 24 high courts and would have helped bring down vacancies from a high of 83 to 48, improving the bench strength to 112.
On the government saying Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for judicial appointments wasn’t ready, the court said it will constitute a five-judge bench to clarify that appointments should not to be held up if MoP wasn’t ready.
Initially, the court wanted to summon the secretaries of the department of justice and the Prime Minister’s Office, but latter chose to refrain on the attorney general’s request.
Last month, attorney general Rohatgi had told the top court that the government alone can’t be blamed for judicial vacancies as many posts were lying vacant for over five years.