6 HCs get 34 judges

The Centre appointed 34 judges to six high courts taking the tally of appointments this year to more than 100, with the Allahabad HC getting 28 judges in one stroke and a tribal from Arunachal becoming the first from the community to be appointed as a HC judge.

Of the 28 judges appointed for Allahabad HC, 15 were lawyers and 13 judicial officers. Two lawyers were appointed as judges in Gauhati high court, one of whom became the first from a tribal community of Arunachal to be become a HC judge. Gauhati HC has a separate Arunachal Pradesh bench. The appointments also included a judge each to the high courts of Meghalaya, Delhi, Orissa and Madras.

The Allahabad HC with a sanctioned strength of 160 judges, had only 89 judges and with the appointment of 28 more, the number would be 117. Other HCs with large vacancies are — Telangana and AP HC (61 sanctioned strength but with nearly 50% vacancies); Delhi HC (60 sanctioned strength with nearly 45% vacancy); and Calcutta HC (72 sanctioned strength with over 50% vacancies). Over 43 lakh cases are pending.

Saturday’s appointments were in sync with the trend set for three consecutive years by the NDA after almost zero appointments in 2015 because of the executive-judiciary faceoff over National Judicial Appointments Commission. With the Centre sulking over a five-judge bench striking down NJAC, which was unanimously passed by Parliament and ratified by 20 states, appointment of judges came to a trickle in 2015 and the HCs faced vacancy of over 40% of the sanctioned strength. Since then, appointments have picked up despite embers of the conflict impeding the process. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had in 2016 claimed that the NDA government had set a record of highest appointment of judges to the HCs as their numbers touched 126 that year. In 2017, the Centre had processed the SC collegium’s recommendations and appointed 117 as HC judges.

In contrast, the number of judges appointed to HCs every year since 1989 till 2014 hovered between 75 and 89. If the vacancies in the HCs had crossed 40% of the sanctioned strength in 2016, it has now come down below 25% with a steady increment in the number of judges.

The gap in appointment of HC judges in 2015 started after an SC bench struck down the NJAC but admitted that the collegium method of selecting persons for appointment as judges to constitutional courts required infusion of transparency. It had in December 2015 asked the Centre to firm up a Memorandum of Procedure for streamlining appointment of judges, power for which was snatched from the executive by the judiciary through two judgements of constitutional benches in the 1990s. Till date, the MoP has not been finalised, despite three CJIs retiring.

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