NEW DELHI: The three-member Supreme Court Collegium headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana on Friday recommended to the Union government names of 68 people for appointment as judges of 12 high courts, most of which are hamstrung by 50% vacancies in judge posts even while struggling to deal with a heavy pendency.
The collegium, comprising CJI Ramana and Justices U U Lalit and A M Kahnwilkar, considered 113 names after intense deliberations spanning several days and found 68 suitable for being recommended for appointment to high courts of Allahabad, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab and Haryana, Kerala, Chhattisgarh and Assam.
The significance of recommending 68 names at one go can be gauged from the strenuousness characterising the exercise, which included scrutinising the antecedents of the candidates in the zone of consideration, their income and reputation and their attitudinal suitability for holding the constitutional posts.
In contrast, from January to April this year, the collegium headed by then CJI S A Bobde and comprising Justices N V Ramana and R F Nariman in six different meetings could recommend names of only 46 people for appointment as judges to nine HCs.
Of the 68 names recommended by the collegium for appointment as HC judges, 44 are advocates and 24 are senior judicial officers in the district judge rank. The collegium has deferred consideration of 16 names awaiting further information on certain issues. Rest of the names were sent back to HC collegiums for reconsideration.
The HCs have a cumulative pendency of nearly 60 lakh cases but are handicapped by 43% vacancy in judges post — against a sanctioned strength of 1089 judges, there are 465 vacancies. The three-member collegium led by CJI Ramana would have to work overtime in future to bring a semblance of normalcy in the working strength of judges in the HCs, which may require many more such mass-scale recommendations for appointment as HC judges.
Most of the big high courts are plagued for long by large numbers of vacancies, which exceeded 50% in some cases. The biggest of them all, Allahabad HC has a sanctioned strength of 160 judges, but it has 68 posts vacant. The Calcutta HC with 72 sanctioned strength has 36 vacancies. As against the sanctioned strength of 94 of Bombay HC, it has 33 vacancies. Delhi HC has more than 50% vacancies as 31 of its 60 sanctioned posts of judges are vacant.
One of the oldest high courts at Patna has 64% vacancy as 34 of 53 sanctioned posts of judges are vacant. Rajasthan HC has more than 50% vacancy as 27 of 50 posts of judges are vacant. Telangana is the worst off in terms of judge strength. It has 31 posts of judges vacant against 42 sanctioned posts, or 74% vacancy.
Gujarat HC has 50% vacancy in its sanctioned strength of 52 posts. Madhya Pradesh HC has a working strength of 29 as against sanctioned 53 posts of judges. Punjab and Haryana HC, the third largest in the country in terms of sanctioned judge strength, has 40 vacancies against its optimum strength of 80 judges. Andhra Pradesh HC has a sanctioned strength of 37 judges but 18 posts are vacant.
Mizoram to get first judge in Gauhati HC, a woman DJ
Among the 68 names cleared for appointment as HC judges by the SC collegium is Marli Vankung, who is currently the Aizawl district judge and comes from the Schedule Tribe community. If the government approves her appointment, she will be the first one, and a woman, to be appointed from Mizoram as a judge of Gauhati HC. Daughter of Brig C Vankunga, Marli Vankung did her LLB from Delhi University and MPhil from JNU before joining Mizoram judicial services.
The collegium also cleared three other names, including two from the ST community — Vankung from Mizoram and advocate K Sema from Nagaland — recommended by the Gauhati HC as late as June 5, 2021, and which the SC collegium had received from the law ministry on August 16. Within 15 days, the SC collegium cleared the names for the Gauhati HC.