Observing that justice delivery system is "collapsing", the Supreme Court today sent out a stern message to the Centre over non-execution of collegium's decision to transfer and appoint Chief Justices and judges of High Courts, saying it will not tolerate the "logjam" and would intervene to make it accountable.
Expressing its anguish over mounting vacancies, the court also said it appears that the Centre is trying to bring judiciary to a halt by not appointing and transferring judges as decided by the collegium.
Asking the Attorney General to seek instructions from the Centre, a bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur, who also heads the five-membered apex court collegium, said, "We won't tolerate logjam in judges' appointment which is stifling its judicial work. We will fasten accountability."
The apex court's attack on the government came on a day when the Rajya Sabha was informed by the government that 478 vacancies are yet to be filled up in 24 high courts and that nearly 39 lakh cases are pending there.
Referring to differences between the judiciary and the Centre over the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP), dealing with the appointment of judges, it said the process of appointment cannot be stalled owing to delay in the finalisation of the MoP.
The bench said that it might intervene on "judicial" side as the eight-month-old decision of the collegium on transfer and appointment of the HC judges has not been given effect to.
"Why there is mistrust? Where's the proposal languishing? 75 names have been recommended by the Collegium, but there seems to be no response. Even appointment of Chief Justices is pending. Transfer of judges is pending. The judges who have been transferred are not being transferred. We don't want all these. This logjam is not good," the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said.
The bench said that if the Government has any reservation against any names, then it can always come back to the collegium.
"If there is a problem about any name, please sent the file back to us (for reconsideration)," it said.
The CJI, referring to his recent visit to Hyderabad, said that the Andhra Pradesh High Court is presently working at its 40 percent of original strength and the backlog has risen immensely.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said, "I will take it up at the highest level and will come back to the court".
He pleaded that no notice be issued for the time being on the PIL filed by 1971 war veteran Lieutenant Colonel Anil Kabotra on the issue.
The bench, during the brief hearing, said that people are in jail for 13-14 years, and judicial vacancies are mounting.
The bench also referred to the data about vacancies in various high courts including Kerala, Uttarakhand and Karnataka and said, "The vacancy in high courts has risen to 43 percent, and there are four million cases pending in the high courts. The whole system is collapsing".
The Collegium took decisions seven-eight months back on transfers and appointment of judges and Chief Justices of the High Court and so far, "nothing has happened", the bench said.
"The collegium has cleared 75 names of high court judges (for transfer/appointment) but they have not been approved. I don't know why, where these files are stuck," it said.
Dealing with the MoP issue, the bench said it was agreed that the process of finalisation of the MoP would not "stall" the appointment and transfer of judges.
The bench, which did not issue notice on the PIL of the Army veteran, for the time being, granted four weeks time to the AG to respond and said that it might ask for files sent to the government by the collegium.
The PIL has referred to the huge backlog of cases and vacancies in the judiciary and has sought a direction to the authorities in this regard.
Recently, the collegium, on May 28, had returned to the Centre the revised MoP that had suggested changes in certain clauses.
The collegium had questioned the Centre's right to reject its recommendation on grounds of national interest and had asked it to change certain other clauses.
The clause on right to reject a recommendation on national interest is contrary to the current practice where a government is bound to accept a recommendation by the collegium, comprising the CJI and four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, if it reiterates the same.
Lieutenant Colonel Kabotra, in his PIL, has sought a direction to Ministry of Law and Justice to take "immediate steps" to facilitate filling up of existing vacancies in the judiciary across the country.
He also sought a direction to consider and implement the 245th report of the Law Commission on reforms in the judiciary and to increase judges' strength and infrastructural facilities in the courts.
The plea further said, "the respondent (Centre) is duty bound to facilitate filling up of existing judges strength across the country and to consider increasing the same substantially regarding the Law Commission's report."
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 6:45 PM