New Delhi, India – The Supreme Court on Monday expressed its displeasure over the Centre’s selective approach to appointing and transferring high court judges, stating that it “sends a wrong signal” and creates “fresh problems” for the judiciary.
The court’s observations come amid the ongoing standoff between the judiciary and the executive over a timeline for appointments to constitutional courts. The Centre has been accused of delaying the process in an attempt to influence the composition of the courts.
In a strong rebuke to the Centre, a bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul questioned the government’s decision to issue transfer orders for five high court judges but not for six others, four of whom are from the Gujarat High Court.
“Why do you do this? It doesn’t send a good signal if you pick and choose. Don’t do selective transfers,” the bench told Attorney General R Venkataramani, who appeared for the government.
The court also expressed concern over the Centre’s decision to segregate the batch of five names of lawyers that the collegium had proposed for appointment as judges in the Punjab & Haryana High Court last month, with the government clearing only three of them, leaving out the two most senior in the list.
“You again picked and chose. Their seniority has been affected. Two of the candidates not cleared are both Sikhs. Why should this arise? Why will people agree to become judges if such selective orders are issued by you?” the court asked Venkataramani.
The law officer, in his defense, said that some delay was attributable to the ongoing assembly elections and that he would ensure the court is not disappointed on the next date of hearing.
However, the court remained unconvinced and warned that it would be forced to take “unpalatable orders,” including withdrawal of judicial work from high court judges, if their transfers are delayed indefinitely.
“It will embarrass those judges if there are consequences to follow in case you don’t transfer judges,” the court cautioned the government.
The Supreme Court’s criticism of the Centre’s handling of judge appointments is likely to further strain the relationship between the two branches of government. It remains to be seen how the Centre will respond to the court’s concerns and whether it will be willing to adopt a more transparent and impartial approach to the process.