Friday 28 October 2016

Supreme Court threatens to hold PMO officials in contempt

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has threatened to issue contempt notices to secretaries in the PMO and Law Ministry for the Centre’s delay in appointing judges to the higher judiciary even several months after the SC collegium recommended the names for the purpose. The court, however, held off the threat on the request of the Attorney General who sought another opportunity to move things along.“You have been sitting
on names for the last nine months. What are you waiting for? A revolution in the system?” Chief Justice of India TS Thakur, sitting alongside Justices L Nageshwar Rao and DY Chandrachud, asked AG Mukul Rohatgi. “You have a problem with a name, send it back, we will reconsider. You can’t sit over it. This is no way to deal with this.”

“We can’t allow the institution to be decimated by executive inaction in this manner. We refuse to accept this,” he said. The CJI demanded to know the secretaries responsible for this in the Law Ministry and the PMO. “Who are the officers? We will issue notices. Let them appear in person,” he said, threatening to pass a judicial order to hurry up the pending appointments. The AG, who had infuriated the CJI by suggesting that the delays were because of the stalemate over revision of the memorandum of procedure which governs the appointments, tried to defuse the situation by urging the CJI to give him one more time to sort out the issue. “Let this be posted sometime in November. I will get back,” the AG said, fending off the imminent court action.

At the outset, he said that some more appointments had gone through in the interim. “But I don’t have names, only numbers. He, however, angered the CJI by suggesting that the time taken was due to the delay in finalising the MoP. “Kindly consider one thing. It’s been one year since the court ruled on the MOP. But it is yet to be finalised. Despite this, we are going ahead.”

The CJI wondered how the government had cleared 88 names under the old MoP in that case. “You should have said that there will be no appointments till the MOP is finalised. We would have clarified that this is not the position (by setting up a 5-judge bench which would have clarified this). There is no unanimity about changes in the MoP within the collegium, or the government, there is no way you can amend it,” the CJI observed. “The MoP is a red herring. This process (of appointing judges) is different from finalising the MoP.

You cleared the 88 names. Now you want to change your mind? Now you want a deadlock? There is an old MoP. You cannot hold the process up because of lack of a new MoP. Is it your case that the MoP is a pre-condition for appointing judges?”

The AG tried to say that it would definitely have hastened things up. “Let me clarify that the old MoP still exists. You cannot hold the institution to ransom.” 

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