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The complaints, received by the PMO and law ministry, have been referred for an Intelligence Bureau (IB) inquiry with at least 11 advocates allegedly claimed to be close relatives and associates of sitting and retired judges of the Supreme Court and the high court. The cases include the brother-in-law of a current SC judge, a first cousin of another, besides sons and nephews of present and former judges.
In a similar case in 2016, the Allahabad HC collegium had recommended names of 30 advocates for judgeship. After complaints from bar associations and other quarters about recommendations, including close relatives of judges and politicians, then CJI T S Thakur had rejected candidature of 11 advocates, resulting in approval of only 19 names. The Centre, too, had validated the allegations through background checks by the IB.
Though an IB check is mandatory and routine in the case of judicial appointments, the specific charges or allegations of nepotism will be examined in the context of the government receiving complaints.
The latest recommendations of the Allahabad HC collegium were made in February this year. The government is also awaiting comments from the governor and UP CM on the recommendations, a mandatory procedure apart from an IB verification.
One candidate in the list of 33 is a law partner of a sitting judge of the HC and another a law partner of the wife of an important political functionary. According to the complaints, scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs) and other backward castes (OBCs) have found a lesser representation in the list.
TOI had reported that the government has received recommendations from the Allahabad HC collegium for appointment of 33 advocates as judges of the HC. The Allahabad HC currently has 100 judges against a sanctioned strength of 160.
The law ministry, which has received the recommendations of the HC collegium for background verifications, is looking into complaints and will take a view once it receives inputs from the IB and the state government. As per the procedure, the HC collegium sends its recommendation to the SC collegium with a copy to the law ministry for background checks. The concerned governor and the CM provide comments, if any. After it receives all reports the law ministry sends the dossier with its overall evaluation of the recommendations to the SC collegium for the latter’s consideration.
The allegations raise questions of under-representation of Dalits and minorities as the list is dominated by upper castes. The government’s insistence for transparency in appointment of judges in the higher judiciary by evolving a mechanism for wider consultation and evaluation of candidates has resulted in a deadlock over finalisation of the memorandum of procedure (MoP) that sets out guidelines for appointments. The MoP is currently pending with the SC collegium for almost a year after the Centre had sent suggestions last year to be incorporated in the guidelines for all future appointments.
The government-proposed MoP has suggested a broader framework to create a pool of candidates from which the HC collegium could pick candidates, including a mechanism where all judges of the HC concerned are consulted before shortlisting names. Similarly, for all appointments in SC, all judges of the apex court are given opportunity to suggest a list of prospective candidates.
Currently, only the HC chief justice, along with two seniormost judges of the court, form the collegium and decides a list of candidates to be recommended. In the SC, the collegium comprises the CJI and four seniormost judges of the apex court.