The Union Ministry of Law and Justice on Wednesday told Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor that while 27 recommendations for judgeship, including names that were reiterated by the Supreme Court Collegium, are currently pending with it, it cannot give a “precise time frame” for filling up vacancies at the Supreme Court and the High Courts.
The response came on an unstarred question by the Congress MP in the Lok Sabha during the ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament. Mr. Tharoor had asked the following four questions:
(a) the total number of recommendations from the collegium of the Supreme Court for the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary, which is still pending with the Government since May, 2014 including the names of the persons recommended and the corresponding date of such recommendations.
While Minister of State for Law and Justice and Corporate Affairs issued a collective response for all four questions, the answer that could be culled out for this query was that no recommendations of the Supreme Court Collegium for the year 2014 are pending with the Government of India.
(b) whether any of the names were sent back to the collegium for reconsideration and if so, out of such names sent back for reconsideration, the number which were reiterated by the Supreme Court collegium including the name of such persons and the dates on which the collegium reiterated their recommendation.
The Government said that for the year 2015, the Collegium recently remitted two names recommended by the Allahabad High Court back to the Chief Justice of the High Court. It further gave the following details about judicial appointments:
It added, “At present, 143 names recommended by the High Court Collegium have been submitted and pending with the Supreme Court Collegium. Further, 5 names recommended by Supreme Court Collegium have been referred back by the Government to Supreme Court for reconsideration and 27 proposals including those names reiterated by Supreme Court Collegium are under various stages of processing with the Government, as per the procedure prescribed in the MoP.”
(c) whether the Government is taking steps to dispose off all pending recommendations for appointment to the higher judiciary, in a time bound manner, if so, the details thereof and if not, the reasons therefor.
Bulk of the Government’s response pertained to these two questions. It elaborated on the introduction of the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014, as well as the Supreme Court’s striking down of the Act.
It also mentioned the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP), claiming that its finalisation is likely to take some more time, and that appointments were being continued to be made on the basis of the existing MoP, “at the initiative of the Government”.
It further asserted that the government cannot provide a timeframe for filling up posts because “filling up of vacancies in the High Courts is a continuous and collaborative process of the Judiciary and Executive involving various Constitutional Authorities”.
However, while the Government’s response is silent on whether any concrete reforms are being considered to improve the process of judicial appointments, it appears that Mr. Tharoor never posed the final question to begin with.
As per a report by the Quint, the Lok Sabha Secretariat has confirmed that the query was in fact made by another MP, Ramachandran Mullapally. While both the questions were initially clubbed together, owing to the fact that they both pertained to the collegium system of appointments, they were later separated on the realisation that Mr. Tharoor’s questions were more specific.
However, Mr. Mullapally’s question was accidentally left undeleted in Mr. Tharoor’s list of queries. It also seems that Mr. Mullapally has attempted to ask this question several times in the past, but without any luck. Even now, the bulk of the response contained a history of the unsuccessful reforms that this government attempted to bring in, while leaving out the answer to the question for any ongoing deliberations for change, yet again.