New Delhi: The Supreme Court expressed anguish Monday over the delay by the Centre in clearing the names recommended by the Collegium for appointment as judges in the higher judiciary. The Supreme Court lamented that the delay ‘effectively frustrates’ the method of appointment.
A Supreme Court bench of Justices SK Kaul and AS Oka said a three-judge bench of the apex court had laid down the timelines within which the appointment process had to be completed. Those timelines, it said, have to be adhered to.
Justice Kaul observed it appeared the government is unhappy with the fact that the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act did not pass the muster, but that cannot be a reason to not comply with the law of the land.
The apex court had in its 2015 verdict struck down the NJAC Act and the Constitution (99th Amendment) Act, 2014, leading to the revival of the Collegium system of existing judges appointing judges to constitutional courts.
During the hearing Monday, the Supreme Court told Attorney General R Venkataramani the ground reality is that the names recommended, including those reiterated by the Collegium, are not being cleared by the government. “How does the system work,” the bench asked, and added, “Our anguish we have already expressed.”
Justice Kaul said sometimes laws pass the muster and sometimes they don’t. “That cannot be a reason not to comply with the law of the land,” he said.
The top court was hearing a plea alleging ‘wilful disobedience’ of the time frame laid down by the Supreme Court in its April 20 order last year to facilitate timely appointment. The bench referred to the process undertaken for appointing judges in the apex court and the high courts.
“Once the Collegium reiterates a name, it is end of the chapter,” the Supreme Court bench said. “There cannot be a situation where recommendations are being made and the government keeps sitting on them as this frustrates the system,” it added.
It said some names are pending with the government for a year-and-a-half. “You are effectively frustrating the method of appointment,” the bench observed. It said the government sometimes picks just one name from among those recommended by the Collegium and this ‘completely disturbs’ the seniority. The Supreme Court said the Collegium recommends the names keeping also in mind the aspect of seniority.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, who had assisted the apex court in the matter earlier, referred to media reports on a statement by Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju on the issue of appointments. “How many statements we take note of,” the bench asked. During the hearing, when Singh again referred to media reports, Justice Kaul said, “I ignore all press reports.”
The bench said both the Attorney General and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta are appearing in the matter. “So the double barrel gun should work,” the bench said in a lighter vein.