The government told the Supreme Court on Friday all efforts are being made to "conform" to the timelines laid down by the apex court for processing the names recommended by the Collegium for appointment as judges to constitutional courts and 44 names are likely to be processed within two-three days.
Amid the frosty Executive-Judiciary ties over the system of judges appointing judges, Attorney General R Venkataramani told the top court the government will adhere to timelines and the recent recommendations made by the Collegium of high courts have been processed with "utmost dispatch".
A bench of Justices S K Kaul and A S Oka observed the delay in dealing with the recommendations sent by the Collegium for transfer of high court judges not only affects the administration of justice but also creates an impression as if third party sources are "interfering". The bench also asked Venkataramani about the five names recommended by the collegium last month for elevation as judges of the apex court.
"Would your lordships defer this for a little while? I have some inputs given to me but I may have some difference of opinion on that," the Attorney General told the bench. He said out of the 104 recommendations made by the Collegium of high courts, which are pending with the government, 44 are likely to be processed and sent to the Supreme Court by this weekend.
"Attorney General submits that he has instructions that the government will adhere to the timelines as provided in the judgement. It is towards that objective that he submits that out of the 104 recommendations made by the collegium of the high courts pending with the government, 44 are likely to be processed and sent to the Supreme Court by the weekend," the bench said. It further noted, "In so far as the pending five recommendations for elevation to this court are concerned, the Attorney General requests for a deferment as he says he is looking into the matter."
At the outset, Venkataramani told the bench that timelines laid down by the apex court should not be deviated from and "all efforts are being made to conform to those timelines". The top court was hearing a matter related to the alleged delay by the Centre in clearing the names recommended by the Collegium for appointment as judges to the Supreme Court and high courts.
During the hearing, the bench flagged several issues ranging from recommendations made for appointment of chief justices of three different high courts to those of transfer of high court judges. Regarding the transfer of judges, the apex court said, "In this, honestly, the role of the government is very limited. If in the administration of justice we feel that some people will have to be transferred and the collegium does so, keeping it pending sends a very wrong signal."
"It sends a signal that other factors are coming into play which I would say this is unacceptable to the collegium," Justice Kaul observed. The bench said one of the aspects which it wanted to flag and which is of "considerable importance" is the recommendations made for transfer of high court judges sent by the Collegium which are 10 in number. It observed that two of them were sent at the end of September 2022, while eight were forwarded towards the end of November last year.
"The transfer of high court judges is done in the interest of administration of justice and exceptions apart, there is no reason for any delay on part of the government in implementing the same," the bench said. It said the Collegium discusses and seeks opinions, including those of the consultee judges, on the issue of transfer of high court judges and this process is completed before a recommendation is made to the government.
On the recommendations made for three chief justices of high courts, the bench noted the Attorney General has assured the court that he is looking into it. "We have impressed on the Attorney General that there will be vacancies of chief justices, which will arise on account of elevations to the Supreme Court, and those cannot be processed till the elevations takes place which is a matter of concern," it said.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for one of the petitioners, raised the issue of the names reiterated by the Collegium being sent back by the government. "The government in the last lot sent back some of the names which were pending. Rightly or wrongly, we have to deal with it. There are 22 names which have been sent back," the bench observed, adding, some reiterated names have also been returned.
Observing that sending back the reiterated names is a matter of concern, the bench said the government may have its own views when a recommendation is made but it can't be kept on hold without sending back the comments on it. "What is to be done is that comments can be sent to us. We will look into the comments, see whether we want to reiterate it or drop the name. If we reiterate the name then there is, as per the present scenario, nothing which can prevent the appointment," the apex court asserted.
Venkataramani said highest level of application of mind and objective consideration is shown in the process. The bench, which posted the matter for further hearing on February 3, also raised the issue of meritorious people withdrawing their consent for judgeship due to the delay in clearing the names. "We have had examples where seniority has been disturbed. Now a negative impact of that is that the collegium will be very hesitant in sending the second list...," it said.
The apex court Collegium, headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, had last month recommended five judges, including Justices Pankaj Mithal and Sanjay Karol, the chief justices of high courts of Rajasthan and Patna, for elevation as judges of the apex court.
"The Supreme Court Collegium, in its meeting held on December 13, 2022, has resolved to recommend elevation of the following chief justices/judges of the high courts, as judges in the Supreme Court: 1. Justice Pankaj Mithal, Chief Justice, Rajasthan High Court 2. Justice Sanjay Karol, Chief Justice, Patna High Court, 3. Justice P V Sanjay Kumar, Chief Justice, Manipur High Court, 4. Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah, Judge, Patna High Court and 5. Justice Manoj Misra, Judge, Allahabad High Court," said a statement uploaded last month on the apex court's website.
The recommendation is pending with the government. The collegium system has become a major flashpoint between the Supreme Court and the central government, with the mechanism of judges appointing judges drawing criticism from different quarters. The plea in the apex court has alleged "wilful disobedience" of the time frame laid down in its April 20, 2021 to facilitate timely appointment of judges.
In the order, the apex court had said the Centre should appoint judges within three-four weeks if the Collegium reiterates its recommendations unanimously.