New Delhi: Six high courts in the country are without regular chief justices for the past six months, with at least four other chief justices set to retire this year, the Hindu has reported.
The six high courts functioning under acting chief justices are Hyderabad (the joint high court for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Calcutta, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Manipur.
Acting chief justices take over the responsibilities of the top judge of the state judiciary as a temporary arrangement. However, many of the acting chief justices of the high courts have been in position for a long time.
Justice Ramesh Ranganathan was made the acting chief justice of Hyderabad high court on July 30, 2016; Justice Nishita Mhatre of the Calcutta high court has been the chief justice since December 1, 2016; Justice Gita Mittal of the Delhi high court since April 14, 2017; Justice Sanjay Karol of the Himachal Pradesh high court since April 25, 2017; Justice D.N. Patel of the Jharkhand high court since June 10, 2017; and Justice N. Kotiswar Singh of the Manipur high court since July 1, 2017.
Meanwhile, Justice Mhatre will retire on September 19, while Karnataka high court chief justice S.K. Mukherjee is set to retire on October 9, Kerala high court chief justice Navaniti Prasad Singh on November 5, and Bombay high court chief justice Manjula Chellur will retire on December 4.
According to the Hindu, there are many judicial vacancies in the country’s 24 high courts, with 413 positions out of a total approved strength of 1079 vacant as of September 1.
According to the Hindustan Times, there has been a slowdown in appointments since July and no new appointment has been made since Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra took over from J.S. Khehar on August 28, sources in the law ministry said.
An law ministry official told the Hindustan Times that the Supreme Court collegium – a body of five top judges of the country headed by the CJI that selects judges for appointment – has to take a call on these vacancies.
No fresh recommendation has been made by any of the high courts after Justice Misra took over as the CJI, a senior functionary told PTI.
According to the Hindu, in some high courts, vacancies are more than the actual number of judges working. In Karnataka high court, there are 35 vacancies compared to 27 working judges. In Calcutta high court, there are 41 judicial vacancies to 31 working judges. The same is the case in Manipur, which has three vacancies to two working judges.
Case pendency on the rise
The Hindustan Times reports that according to law ministry officials, about 61 names for appointment as high court judges forwarded to the Supreme Court collegium are pending. These were sent to the SC collegium during Justice Khehar’s tenure as CJI.
Meanwhile, the government has not appointed candidates cleared by the collegium “in some cases nearly six months ago,” sources told Hindustan Times.
But this stand-off between the judiciary and the executive has added to the number of pending cases. More than 30 million cases are pending in various courts across the country, reported the Hindustan Times.
(With inputs from PTI)