NEW DELHI: In yet another showdown between the judiciary and the executive, the Centre and the Supreme Court on Friday crossed swords over the issue of appointment of judges in the higher judiciary. According to PTI, The Centre today slammed the apex court Collegium for recommending fewer names to fill up huge vacancies in the various high courts of the country.
The apex court too also hit out at the Centre for keeping the names recommended by the Collegium pending.
"Tell us, how many names (recommended by the Collegium) are pending with you," a bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta asked Attorney General (AG) KK Venugopal.
When the AG replied by saying, "I will have to find out", the apex court bench retorted "when it comes to the government, you say 'we will find out'".
The bench made the strong remarks following a submission by Venugopal that though the court was dealing with a matter relating to the vacancy of judges in the high courts of Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura, the fact was that the Collegium has been recommending only three names for high courts where the vacancy was for 40 judges.
"The Collegium will have to see the broad picture and recommend more names," the AG said, adding, "some high courts have 40 vacancies and recommendation of the Collegium is only for three. And the government is being told that we are tardy in filing up the vacancy".
"If there is no Collegium recommendation, nothing can be done," Venugopal told the bench. The bench then reminded the government that they have to make the appointments.
The matter refers to the April 19 recommendation to the Centre by Collegium regarding the appointment of Justice M Yaqoob Mir and Justice Ramalingam Sudhakar as the chief justices of the Meghalaya High Court and Manipur High Court respectively, which has not been cleared by the government yet.
Responding to it, Venugopal said the issues related to Justice Sudhakar and Justice Yaqoob Mir would be dealt with and orders would be issued "shortly".
"What shortly? 'Shortly' could be three months," the bench reacted.
On April 17, while hearing a petition filed by a man seeking transfer of his case from Manipur High Court to Gauhati High Court, the apex court had noted that the situation in the high courts in North-East states like Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura was "critical" due to the vacancy of judges there.
It had noted that Manipur High Court had only two judges against a sanctioned strength of seven, Meghalaya High Court had one judge against the sanctioned strength of four, while Tripura High Court had two judges against the sanctioned strength of four.
The top court's remarks assume significance as the Centre, after almost three months of Collegium's recommendation, returned for reconsideration the file of Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K M Joseph for elevation as an apex court judge.
The AG during his arguments also referred to the Collegium resolution of March 6 relating to the appointment of Justice Songkhupchung Serto, an additional judge of Manipur High Court who was functioning on transfer in the Gauhati High Court, as a permanent judge.
In this resolution, the Collegium had recommended that Justice Serto be appointed as a permanent judge of the Manipur High Court and would continue to function in Gauhati High Court.
Venugopal referred to the resolution and said it was "very strange" that Justice Serto should continue to function from the Gauhati High Court.
"That time, only two judges were there in Manipur High Court. It should not have been said that he (Justice Serto) would continue in Gauhati High Court. It was necessary to bring him back to Manipur High Court," he said.
To this, the bench observed, "may be the Collegium does not want to get him back to Manipur. We do not know".
The court then told the AG that it was not only a problem in the Manipur High Court as the situation was similar in the high courts of Meghalaya and Tripura.
Venugopal said he had inquired about Manipur High Court and once Justice Sudhakar goes there, the high court would have three judges and problem will be solved.
The bench concluded by asking the Attorney General to file an affidavit within 10 days regarding the vacancies in high courts of Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura.
(With PTI inputs)