The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre to apprise it of a reasonable time frame within which it can respond to the recommendations made by its collegium for appointment of judges as the government said that it will adhere to the timeline fixed in the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP).
The government blamed the delay on clearing of names on High Courts for not sending the recommendations on time and said that many of them have not sent the names for the last five years against the existing vacancy.
The top court pointed out that there are 10 names recommended by its collegium and pending with the government for a year and half and by what time frame it expects those names to be cleared.
Attorney General K K Venugopal said that the government will take a decision on those 10 names within three months.
A special bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Surya Kant told Venugopal, "You leave the issue of High Courts to us. We as the Supreme Court of India will take care of High Courts and ask them to make recommendations six months ahead of the vacancy. But we are on the question of delay. Why can''t you tell us the fixed reasonable time frame within which you can respond to the names sent by collegium? Tell us a fixed reasonable time frame".
Venugopal said that the government will strictly adhere to the time frame fixed in the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) as it gives the timelines for different branches-High Court collegium, Supreme Court collegium and the government.
"There is no time frame given for the Prime Minister in the MoP and once the file is cleared from the office of Prime Minister, it is sent to the President for approval," the Attorney General said.
When the bench asked, is the timeline given in the MoP, Venugopal said, "Yes. In the 1998 MoP the timeline is fixed for different branches. The MoP made post NJAC (National Judicial Appointment Commission) judgement is still pending with the Supreme Court".
At the outset, Venugopal said that the Supreme Court has the sanctioned strength of 34 judges and there is vacancy of five judges but the government has not received any recommendation.
He said that there are 416 vacancies in High Courts against the sanctioned strength of 1080 judges but the government is yet to receive the recommendations from various High Court Collegium for 220 names.
The government has pointed out in a note that as on April 13, High Courts of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Orissa and Sikkim have not recommended names for vacancies from bar which have been existing for five years or more.
It said, High Courts of Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Gauhati, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Patna, Punjab and Haryana, Telangana, Tripura and Uttarakhand did not recommend names for vacancies from Bar which had been existing for one to five years.
It had further said that similarly High Courts of Manipur, Punjab and Haryana have not recommended names for vacancies from services which have been existing for five years or more.
"High Courts of Allahabad, Andhra Pradesh, Calcutta, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa and Patna did not recommend names for vacancies from service which has been existing for one to five years," it said.
The note said that High Courts of Jharkhand and Chattisgarh have a delay of 83 and 74 months in making recommendations for appointment of judges from Bar respectively.
On March 25, the top court had said that the Centre should respond to its collegium recommendations within a reasonable time frame and favoured appointment of ad-hoc judges in the high courts to reduce the pendency of cases in the judiciary.
It had taken note of delay on part of the central government in acting on the collegium''s recommendations.
It had said that on each stage there is a certain thought process and therefore "there should be a reasonable time frame within which the Union Ministry of Law and Justice should act.
After collegium recommends they need to reply in a specific time frame". It had asked Venugopal to make a statement regarding clearing of names recommended by the top court collegium.
On January 27, the top court had taken strong note of the delay on the part of the Central government in acting on the collegium''s recommendations clearing names for appointment of judges in higher judiciary, saying "it is a matter of great concern".
The top court had then said that as on date 189 proposals on appointment of judges are pending and sought an update on the latest position from the government.