Stating he "respectfully" disagrees with Chief Justice of India TS Thakur, Union Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Saturday said the government has so far appointed 120 High Court judges, adding this is the second highest number of appointments in the history of the country's judicial system.
"We have got the highest regard for the CJI, but we respectfully disagree with him. This year we have made 120 appointments. This is the second highest after 121 were appointed in 2013. Since 1990 there had only been 80 appointments," Prasad told the media.
Prasad also said that the Supreme Court has failed to make the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP), a document to guide appointment of judges to higher judiciary, more transparent and reasonable despite repeated requests from the government.
"But for the larger issue of appointment is concerned, there is a Supreme Court decision of making the MoP more transparent, objective, reasonable, fair and the government's stand is pending for more than three months and we are yet to hear from the Supreme Court," he said.
Responding to Justice Thakur's claim that there is a lack of adequate infrastructure provided to the tribunals, Prasad said, "As far as infrastructure is concerned, it is a continuous process. So many tribunal courts are there. But we need to understand that every retired Supreme Court judge cannot be given the same bungalow of the same size, there is land constraint also."
Earlier, Justice Thakur stated that there were 500 judges' posts lying vacant in High Courts while adding that courtrooms are unable to function without judges.
He further said that in principle, the judiciary was not against the formation of Tribunals because it would relieve court duties, but the problem arose from the lack of adequate infrastructure provided to the Tribunals.
"Tribunals are not equipped and are lying empty. Today a situation has come that when no retired Supreme Court judge wants to head the Tribunal. I am pained to send my retired colleagues there. Government is not ready to give proper facilities. Vacancy apart from infrastructure is a major concern for the Tribunal," Thakur said.
The Centre and the top court have been at war since the Supreme Court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, which was brought in to end more than 20-year-old practice of judges appointing judges under the collegium system, with government having no say in the process.
Earlier, the Centre had conveyed to Supreme Court that it had returned to the collegium or its reconsideration of 43 of the 77 names recommended for the appointment of judges in various High Courts and that the remaining 34 have been appointed as judges.
On October 28, the apex court had lashed out at the NDA government for failing to appoint judges in various High Courts despite the collegium clearing some of the names more than nine months ago, in which a livid Thakur told Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi, "You can as well close down the courts. Close down justice".