The Constitution Day celebrated on Saturday on November 26, 1949, turned into a battleground between Chief Justice of India T S Thakur and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on the issue of delay in appointment of judges. In the morning, Justice Thakur set off the spark, saying all three organs of the state shouldn’t cross the ‘Lakshman rekha’ and it is the duty of the judiciary to watch that all remain within their limits.
As CJI Thakur raised several questions on why the Centre was sitting on selections made by the collegium headed by him, Prasad turned the tables on Thakur by questioning the judiciary’s inaction in filling more than 5,000 vacancies in subordinate (lower) courts in which ‘the Centre or state has no role’.
“The steps for this have to be taken by the high courts themselves or through public service commissions. Why are they delaying it,” asked Prasad.
“Even if you forget about the high courts, where there are 500 vacancies, look at the state of affairs at tribunals. It gives an impression as if you hardly care. Massive deficiencies. poor infrastructure… tribunals are set up to expedite casesâ€¦ the least you can do is that you ensure that it runs in full strengthâ€¦” CJI Thakur said.
Reacting to it, Prasad told reporters: “We respectfully disagree with him (Chief Justice). This year we made 120 appointments to the High Courts – the second highest, so far. There was 121 in 2013. Since 1990 there had been only 80 appointments. Remember there are 5,000 vacancies in lower judiciary. This is an arena where the government has no role. What about that?”
Justice J S Khehar, who is set to become CJI in January, came up with a retort, saying “the cause of the poor and the depressed people in the country is the Lakshman rekha for the judiciary”. He said liberty, equality and dignity of citizens flourished substantially in the country due to pro-active role of the judiciary.
Prasad had earlier responded to the accommodation issue for judges heading Tribunals sarcastically. “If retired SC judges feel that they, as chairman of Tribunals, be provided with bungalows similar to the ones they occupied as sitting SC Judges, then there is a logistical problem. Number of big bungalows in New Delhi’s Lutyens’ Zone is limited.”