New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday censured the Centre's inaction on the reappointment of retired judges as ad hoc judges at a time thousands were languishing in jail, waiting for bail or the disposal of their appeals.
The bench of Justices R.F. Nariman and Indu Malhotra issued notices to the Centre and the states, giving them eight weeks to furnish an action plan for the appointment of retired high court judges as ad-hoc judges at their high courts.
Nearly 500 judges' posts -nearly 40 per cent of the high courts' sanctioned strength -are vacant, with the Centre's tardiness in clearing the apex court collegium's recommendations for appointments a sore point with the judiciary.
On Wednesday, the bench granted bail to Ratan Singh, an accused in a criminal case who had already spent almost six years in jail in Madhya Pradesh.
"Citizens of India have to face enormous hardship - many persons are languishing in jails. We are not at all happy with the stand taken by either the Union of India or the state of Madhya Pradesh," the bench said.
"A previous Chief Justice of this court (apparently Justice T.S. Thakur) had meetings with the chief justices from all the states in which it was suggested, and finally adopted by way of resolution, that ad-hoc judges be appointed within the present constitutional scheme to take care of arrears of this kind. We wish to know what steps have been taken... by the Union of India as well as all the other states.
"It is extremely important that criminal appeals that are pending in the high courts all over the country be disposed of at once...."
The next hearing will be on September 18.
In November 2016, then Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur had criticised the NDA government for not clearing even the reappointments of 25 retired judges as ad hoc judges in the various high courts.
"There are more than 50 per cent vacancies in high courts. There are people (judges) who are retired. Those who are retired, tried and tested are to be appointed. Twenty-five names are lying with you. You have not cleared it," Justice Thakur had told additional solicitor-general Maninder Singh while hearing a case.
A special provision under Article 224A of the Constitution allows the President to reappoint retired high court judges as ad hoc high court judges for a period not exceeding two years.
At the 2016 all-India conference of high court chief justices and chief ministers, it was resolved that until the vacancies in the high courts had been filled up, retired high court judges would be reappointed temporarily.
The various high courts had then sent the Centre a list of 25 retired judges, nominating them for reappointment, but none has yet been approved.
"We have been shown our order dated 16.05.2018 (state) which discloses a dismal state of affairs. Criminal appeals apparently of the year 2001 and 2002 alone are being taken up for hearing in the state of Madhya Pradesh," the bench said on Wednesday.