The Supreme Court on Wednesday criticised the government for “cherry-picking” from its recommendations for tribunals across the country, asking what is the sanctity of recommendations by the panel headed by sitting top court judges if the government has the last say on the matter.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, and comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao told Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, representing the Centre, that it is “very unhappy” with the way the Centre has made appointments to the tribunals.
It clearly told the him it did not appreciate the Centre’s “cherry-picking” names for appointment after recommendations made by the Search-cum-Selection Committees (SCSC) headed by Supreme Court judges.
Emphasising that it is distressing that names recommended by selection panel, which comprised of sitting top court judges and two senior bureaucrats, were not treated seriously, the top court gave Centre two weeks, as the last opportunity, to make good the appointments and furnish reasons for the names, which were rejected.
“We are very unhappy with what is going on,” noted the Chief Justice, while questioning the Centre as to why recommendations made by the SCSC were not accepted. The SCSC shortlists candidates for appointment and then sends it to the Centre for clearance.
“Make all appointments. We give you two weeks’ time,” said the bench.
The bench pointed out that the SCSC recommended nine judicial members and 10 technical members for National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and the appointment letter issued showed “as if members were cherry-picked and some were kept on waiting”.
“We cannot ignore selected candidates and go to waitlist. What type of selection and appointment is this?”
As the AG contended before the bench that the government has power not to accept the recommendation, the Chief Justice responded that in a democracy, one cannot say recommendations cannot be accepted. “What is the sanctity of recommendations made by panel headed by sitting top court judges, if the government has the last say on the matter?” he asked
“I have seen the NCLT (National Company Law Tribunal) appointments…. more recommendations were made. But in appointments, cherry-picking was done.”
Expressing unhappiness with the decisions, he added: “What kind of selection is this? Same thing done with ITAT (Income Tax Appellate Tribunal) members also.”
Chief Justice Ramana further added that he is also part of the NCLT selection committee and pointed out the committee interviewed 544 people, out of which 11 names were given for judicial members and 10 technical members. “From all of these recommendations, only some of them were appointed by the government… rest of the names went to (the) wait list… we wasted our time,” he said.
Justice Chandrachud pointed out that people are left in lurch, when they go to the high courts, they are told to go to tribunals. He added, “But there are vacancies in tribunals”.
The apex court was hearing a batch of petitions raising the issue of vacancies in various tribunals and also a petition, by senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, challenging certain provisions of The Tribunal Reforms Act, 2021.