On Thursday, the incumbent CJI Bobde called an SC Collegium meeting which ended in a stalemate. The agenda of the meeting was to discuss the next appointments to Supreme Court. However, the 5-member collegium could not agree on a single name and the meeting ended on an impasse. With this, CJI Bobde is now the first Chief Justice of India in India’s judiciary history to be coming close to his 14-month tenure’s end without having any appointments made in the top court.
However, one should know that this is not the first time such an impasse has been recorded. Back in 2015, during CJI H.L. Dattu’s tenure, the judiciary and the Centre were into a deadlock over the issue of NJAC (National Judicial Appointments Commission).
The meeting is also significant one as Mr. Bobde’s collegium meeting call was an unprecedented move and showed the desperation of the incumbent CJI. It’s a convention where once a President appoints a new CJI, the incumbent one holds back from calling out collegium meetings in which the CJI can suggest Judges to the SC. Since the nation recently got its new CJI in the form of N.V. Ramana, incumbent CJI Bobde’s move can be considered highly unconventional. With this, Mr. Bobde will perhaps be the first and only CJI in the history of Indian judiciary that will retire without making any recommendation for an appointment in the Apex Court. This is all the more a significant record as he has served more than a year after the introduction of the Collegium System in 90s.
The Collegium consisted of 5 judges from Supreme Court: CJI Bobde, Justice Ramana, Rohinton Fali Nariman. U.U. Lalit and A.M. Khanwilkar. Currently, the SC has the vacancy of 6 judges. Additionally, after CJI Bobde’s retirement on April 23, the SC will be short of at least 6 judges. The last time an appointment was made in the SC was in September 2019 and the most recent vacancy that hasn’t been filled yet was also created in 2019. The situation is even more dire for the SC as this year Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice Rohinton Nariman and Justice Navin Sinha are also scheduled to retire, sources familiar to the matter stated.
According to Hindustan Times, there were some High Court judges’ names that were discussed in the meeting but the 5-member panel remained on an impasse. One should know that it’s just not Supreme Court where vacancies are open for grabs for a long time and judges can’t come to a consensus for the vacancies’ filling. According to The Quint, India’s approved strength is 1080 Judges for High Court. Against that, there are 419 vacancies due to which over 57 lakh cases are pending. In some High Courts of states, there are appointments of judges that are facing delays up to 6 years.
According to a data set shared by the Indian Law Ministry in a 2019 Lok Sabha Proceeding, out of the approved strength of 22,545 positions across the nation, close to 5500 were still vacant in subordinate courts. This means that 1 in every 4 positions were vacant.
According to the Department of Justice, the delay in the appointments is caused by the fact that the state High Courts fail to adhere to the timelines provided by the Memorandum of Procedure. According to the Memorandum of Procedure, the power to recommend high court judge rests with the Chief Justice of the respective high court. Additionally, the procedure should commence 6 months before and finish 1 month before the vacancy is out.