Days after the Chief Justice of India made an impassioned plea to the government to help address shortage of judges, Union Law Minister Sadananda Gowda today said there was no procedural delay from the government’s side in appointing judges and it was “exclusively” in the hands of the judiciary.
“Appointment of judges is exclusively in the hands of the judiciary. Now their appointments are through collegium. The High Court collegium is there for the High Court. (They) refer the matter to the Supreme Court, then they refer the matter to the Ministry of Law and Justice only for processing, he said.
Gowda was responding to a question on Chief Justice of India Justice T S Thakur turning emotional on the issue recently and lamenting the government’s “inaction” in raising the number of judges from 21,000 to 40,000 to handle mounting cases.
“In my office, I have not kept files (on appointment of judges) for more than 15 days,” the law minister told a Meet-the-Press programme organised by Ernakulam Press Club here.
“I don’t want to make any comment or anything about the judiciary and all that. Central government so far has not delayed even a single file in processing. And we are taking care of the judiciary,” he said.
“Nothing moves”, Thakur had said, recalling a 1987 Law Commission recommendation to increase the number of judges per 10 lakh people from 10 to 50.
“Then comes inaction by the government as the increase (in strength of judges) does not take place,” he had said while addressing the inaugural session of the joint conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts.
Gowda noted that Parliament had unanimously passed the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill (NJAC Bill), but it was rejected by the Supreme Court.
“100 per cent members of the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, supported the bill. But that bill has been struck down by the Supreme Court,” the Minister said.
In October last year, the Supreme Court had rejected the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act and the 99th Constitutional Amendment which sought to give politicians and civil society a final say in the appointment of judges to the highest courts.
Gowda said as far as pendency of cases is concerned, how they should be disposed and in which manner they should be disposed, it is within the domain of the judiciary.
“The executive cannot encroach upon the judiciary. That is the rule laid down in the Constitution,” he said.
Gowda also elaborated on the steps his Ministry had taken to speed up the appointment of judges after the Supreme Court struck down the NJAC Act, saying he himself had met CJI and said there were more than 100 names which were listed earlier to the apex court.
The Minister said he told the CJI to go ahead with the present memorandum of procedure for appointment of judges as the government felt that formulating a new memorandum as directed by the court would delay the whole process.
“I thought it would delay the whole process. Already about 400 HC judges’ vacancy was there. So I said to the Chief Justice, no sir …now you go ahead with the present Memorandum of Procedure (a document to guide appointment of judges to the apex court and the high courts.
“I myself went, I wrote a letter to the Chief Justice. I have got the process started (for appointing judges),” he said.
The Minister said he informed the CJI that the new memorandum of procedure once drafted could be placed before the apex court and till then the present procedure could be used.