In a strong indictment of the Government over non-filling of vacancies at the tribunals across the country, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said the manner in which appointments have been made clearly indicates “cherry-picking” of names.
Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao came down heavily on the Centre and told Attorney General KK Venugopal about their displeasure on the appointments in tribunals, especially on displacing of National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) Chairperson and appointing new person and non-adherence to the apex court’s recommendations.
The apex asked the Centre to make appointments within two weeks to the tribunals which are facing severe crunch of presiding officers as well as judicial and technical members, and apprise it of reasons if persons from the recommended list are left out in the process.
“The appointment letters which have been issued clearly indicate they have selected cherry picking three names from the select list and others from the waitlist, ignoring others in the select list. In service law, you can’t go to the waitlist ignoring the select list. What kind of selection and appointment is this?” the bench asked Attorney General KK Venugopal, who assured the bench that the Centre would make appointments in two weeks.
It will be from the list of persons recommended by the search and selection committee.
Senior advocate Arvind Datar, representing the petitioner Congress MP Jairam Ramesh, said that for the ITAT, the search cum selection committee selected 41 people but only 13 have been chosen on basis which “we don’t know”.
“This is nothing new. Every time it is the same story,” the bench said. The CJI said the Supreme Court judges undertook an elaborate exercise to shortlist the names during the Covid and the entire efforts are going in vain.
“We travelled across the country. We spent a lot of time. During Covid, your Government requested us to conduct interviews as early as possible. We wasted so much time,” the CJI expressed exasperation. The CJI commented that as per the latest appointment the members will have tenure of only one year and said, “Which judge will go to join this job for one year?”
On the issue of non-acceptance of names recommended by the selection committee, Venugopal said the Government has the power not to accept the recommendations made. “We are a democratic country in which rule of law is followed and we are working under the Constitution. You can’t say that I don’t accept,” the CJI said.
“What is the sanctity of the process if the Government has the last word? Selection committee undertakes an elaborate process to short-list the names,” the bench said. There are around 250 posts lying vacant in various key tribunals and appellate tribunals across the country, the CJI added.
The bench expressed resentment over the “hurried” appointment of Justice M Venugopal as acting chairperson of the NCLAT.
“I am in advance telling you (AG) to appear tomorrow, it’s regarding the premature retirement of Justice Cheema as NCLAT Chairman. It appears he has been replaced. It says that 10 days before the retirement of Mr Cheema, NCLAT chairman, Mr Venugopal was hurriedly appointed. I don’t know how this is happening,” the bench also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao said.
The Centre on Saturday approved the proposal for the appointment of eight judicial members and 10 Technical members in the NCLT.
Justice Venugopal has been appointed as the acting chairperson of the NCLAT, as the key appellate tribunal continues to be without a permanent head now for more than one-and-a-half years. The top court was hearing a clutch of petitions on the issue of vacancies in tribunals and the new law governing quasi-judicial bodies.