As the Winter Session of the Parliament continues, Minister of State for Law and Justice and Corporate Affairs PP Chaudhary on Wednesday submitted before the Lok Sabha that the Government of India has not received any proposal for filling up of the six vacancies of judges in the Supreme Court and for appointment of Chief Justices in the nine high courts which are functioning with acting chief justices.
The submission was in response to the question posed by Telugu Desam Party members Konakalla Narayana Rao and JC Divakar Reddy, and Shiv Sena member Ravindra Vishwanath Gaikwad regarding the status of vacancies of judges and regular chief justices in high courts as well as vacancies in posts of judicial officers in the subordinate judiciary across states. Further, the question sought to inquire about the steps being taken by the government to fill all the posts in each court within a timeframe.
As per the statement on the number of vacancies of judges in 24 high courts tabled before the Parliament, as on December 20, there are an aggregate of 395 vacant posts, with 51 vacancies in the Allahabad High Court, 39 in Calcutta, 37 in Karnataka, 35 in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, 24 in Bombay and 23 in Delhi. Further, there are 5,984 vacancies of judicial officers in district and subordinate judiciary, the state of Uttar Pradesh being at the highest wrung with 1,344 vacancies, followed by Bihar with 825 vacant posts and Madhya Pradesh with 748 vacancies.
The Minister of State continued that a specific timeframe cannot be defined for the filing up of the vacancies across high courts as the same is a “continuous and collaborative process of the Judiciary and the Executive involving various Constitutional Authorities”. Further, the issue of filing up vacancies in the subordinate judiciary falls exclusively within the purview of the concerned high courts and state governments.
With regard to the posts lying vacant in the Supreme Court and of the chief justices of high courts, it was submitted that as per the existing Memorandum of Procedure (MoP), a proposal in that behalf has to be initiated by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) in consultation with a collegium of the 4 senior-most judges of the Supreme Court atleast one month prior to the anticipated vacancy, but the Government of India has received no proposal in respect of 6 vacancies in the Supreme Court and 9 high courts with acting chief justices.
Since the modification of the existing MoP in pursuance of the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court on December 16, 2015, in W.P. (C) 13/2015 was expected to take time in 2016, 4 judges in the Supreme Court and 14 chief justices of high courts were appointed as per the existing MoP. Besides, 126 fresh appointments of judges were made in high courts, which is the highest number in a calendar year. During 2017, as on December 19, 5 judges in the Supreme Court, 8 chief justices of high courts and 115 fresh appointments of judges in the high courts have been made.
The said guidelines have been prescribed to improve the prevailing collegium system for appointment, transfer and elevation of Supreme Court and high court judges, in the wake of the striking down of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act of 2014, which envisaged a 6-member NJAC, comprising the CJI, 2 senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, the Law Minister and 2 eminent persons nominated by a committee of the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and the CJI, to replace the collegium system. The Act of 2014 was declared unconstitutional by a five-judge bench of the apex court on October 16, 2015. Thereafter, by order dated December 16, 2015, the said broad guidelines were issued with a view to introduce transparency and accountability in the collegium system by supplementing the MoP as drafted by the Government of India.