SC raises issue of Pendency of 70 Collegium Recommendations with Centre

With 70 collegium recommendations still stuck with the government, the Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed its dismay over the “delay” in the appointment of judges and asked the attorney general to use his office to resolve the issue.

After a bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia raised the matter, Attorney General R Venkataramani sought a week’s time to come back with instructions on the pending recommendations for judges’ appointment to the high court.

“Today, I am quiet because the attorney general has sought a very short time, next time I will not be quiet. Use your good office to see these issues are resolved,” Justice Kaul told Venkataramani during the hearing.

The bench said, “There were 80 recommendations pending until last week when 10 names were cleared. Now, the figure is 70, of which 26 recommendations are of transfer of judges, seven are reiterations, nine are pending without being returned to the collegium and one case is of appointment of the Chief Justice to a sensitive high court.”

All these recommendations are pending since November last year, it said.

Justice Kaul said there is a seven-month hiatus since something substantial was done on the recommendations which are pending and these needed basic processing only.

“We have endeavoured to push things and monitor closely. I have told the attorney general that every 10-12 days this matter will be taken up, so that before I demit office (December 25), substantial work is done,” said Justice Kaul, who is part of the apex court collegium which looks after the appointment of judges in the top court and the high courts.

The appointment of judges through the collegium system has in the past become a major flashpoint between the Supreme Court and the Centre with the mechanism drawing criticism from different quarters.

The top court was hearing a petition filed by Advocates Association of Bengaluru seeking contempt action against the Union Ministry of Law and Justice for not allegedly adhering to the timeline set by the court in a 2021 judgement.

During the hearing, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for another petitioner NGO Common Cause, submitted a chart related to pending recommendations with the government.

He said what is more worrisome is that even after a batch of names is recommended by the collegium at one time, the government segregates it and makes selective appointments.

“This affects the morale of lawyers and as per my information, several of them have withdrawn their consents,” he said.

Justice Kaul, while agreeing with the views of Bhushan, said there are nine such names, where the government has kept the names pending without reverting them back.

“I agree that the way good candidates withdraw their consent to be a judge is really worrisome. We try to get the best talents but due to pendency, lawyers whose names have been recommended for judgeship have withdrawn their names,” Justice Kaul said as he posted the matter for further hearing on October 9.

Senior advocate Arvind Dattar, appearing for the petitioner ‘The Advocates Association of Bengaluru’ and Bhushan said a “hard push” is needed to ensure that the Centre adheres to the timeline.

Justice Kaul said some of the candidates have lost interest and withdrawn their names due to the delay in appointment, which also affects their seniority.

“I know about one or two such great candidates due to the position I am holding. With the assurance from AG, I’ll take this matter up every 10 days. I thought of saying a lot, but since the attorney general is only seeking seven days’ time, I’m holding myself,” he said.

Bhushan urged the bench that direction needs to be issued for compliance with its verdict in which a timeline has been fixed for clearing the recommendation of the collegium.

“Today, I am quiet because the attorney general has sought a very short time, next time I will not be quiet. Use your good office to see these issues are resolved,” Justice Kaul told the AG.

Justice Kaul said earlier he had asked the then Attorney General KK Venugopal to use his good office to ensure clearance of names but he was partly successful.

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On February 13, the top court told the Centre to make sure that “most of what is expected is done” on issues concerning the appointment and transfer of judges as recommended by the apex court collegium.

The top court had earlier expressed displeasure over the delay in clearing recommendations for the transfer of high court judges, calling it a “very serious issue”.

During the earlier hearing in the matter on January 6, the government had told the apex court that all efforts were being made to “conform” to timelines laid down by the top court for processing the names recommended by the collegium for appointment of judges to constitutional courts.

One of the pleas in the apex court has alleged “wilful disobedience” of the time frame laid down in its April 20, 2021, order to facilitate the timely appointment of judges.

In that order, the apex court had said the Centre should appoint judges within three-four weeks if the collegium reiterates its recommendations unanimously.

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