Kiren Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha on Thursday that vacancies and appointments in the higher judiciary will linger until a new system is implemented.
According to Rijiju, the Centre has limited power over appointing judges during the current Winter Session of the Parliament.
Currently, there are 27 judges on the Supreme Court, instead of the sanctioned 34, as of December 5. As of now, in the high courts, there are 777 judges against a sanctioned strength of 1,108, which leaves 331 vacancies (30%).
In response to supplementaries during Q&A, Rijiju said about five crore cases are pending in the various courts, a number that greatly impacts the public. The Centre has taken a bunch of steps to reduce case backlogs. “We’re supporting the reduction of pendency. Until we create a new system for appointments, questions will keep coming up about vacancies and appointments,” he added.
“The government only has limited powers to fill vacancies (in courts),” he said, adding that the Centre can’t look for anyone else but those recommended by the collegium. A request has been made to the chief justices of the Supreme Court and high courts to send names as soon as possible for filling judge vacancies, both verbally and in writing, Rijiju said.
Several retired judges, prominent jurists, advocates, lawyers, and political party leaders have opined that it wasn’t right that a five-member Constitution bench struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act. Rijiju said the government would revive it.
In order to make the collegium system for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and high courts more broad-based, transparent, accountable and to bring objectivity in the system, the government passed the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment), 2014 and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014 on April 13, 2015.
Both Acts were challenged at the apex court, which declared both unconstitutional and void in a judgment on October 16, 2015.
In the Upper House, Rijiju responded to a dispute between the judiciary and the Centre over judicial appointments. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court collegium recommended five names to the Union government for elevation as top court judges, a move that came amid criticism from the apex court that the Centre wasn’t acting on its recommendations fast enough.
As for the judiciary and Centre, a Parliamentary panel said earlier this week it is “regrettable” they don’t follow the timeline for appointing judges to high courts and the Supreme Court. According to the Centre, it’s not appropriate to bind the President of India to a timeline regarding judicial appointments. In addition, the Centre is worried about appointing retired judges to deal with the massive backlog of cases in high courts.
(With inputs from PTI)