March 23rd 2020

In October 2018, then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi took suo motu cognisance of judicial vacancies in the lower courts. The Court directed all High Courts and State (and Union Territory) Governments to submit reports of steps taken to fill judicial vacancies and build adequate judicial infrastructure. Till date, the Court has continued to monitor the matter on a roughly monthly basis.

In the previous hearing on 6 March, a Bench comprising current Chief Justice Sharad Bobde and Justices B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant dealt with an issue pertaining to appointments in the State of West Bengal. It was brought to the Bench’s attention that the State Law Ministry had objected to some of the judges recommended for appointment by the High Court (of Calcutta). The Bench directed the State Law Minister to submit his objections to the Chief Justice of the High Court, Thottathil B. Nair Radhakrishnan.

Then on March 18th, the counsels for the State of West Bengal moved the Supreme Court for an urgent hearing. Accordingly, the case was listed for today.

Today, March 23rd, the Bench set an ultimatum for the State Law Ministry. It directed the Law Minister to meet Chief Justice Radhakrishnan at the High Court premises before 12pm on March 24th (tomorrow). The Bench warned that if the Law Minister, or his Secretary (Judicial), failed to meet the Chief Justice, that ‘the Chief Justice shall be free to take any decision he considers appropriate in the matter‘.

The Bench also amended its order from March 6th, wherein it had directed the Chief Justice Radhakrishnan to finalise his list of recommended judges by March 7th. The Bench amended the date to March 24th.

Hearings are likely only to resume after the coronavirus epidemic subsides.