Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court expressed concerns over the central government’s delay in notifying Delhi High Court judge Siddharth Mridul’s elevation as the chief justice of the Manipur High Court. In response to this, the Centre has assured the apex court that his file has been ‘cleared’ and the notification regarding the same will be issued shortly.
image source: ANI News
The Centre’s Verdict on the Petition
A division bench composed of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia, was presiding over a petition filed by the Advocates Association of Bengaluru seeking action of contempt against the Union Ministry of Law and Justice (Advocates Association Bengaluru v. Barun Mitra And Anr.) concerned with not adhering to the timeline set by the Court in its previous judgement in 2021 for clearing collegium proposals.
Similarly, a writ petition filed by the NGO Common Cause, raising the issue of delays in judicial appointments was also listed along with the said petition.
In its order today, the bench recorded the central government’s assurance that the notification for Justice Mridul’s appointment will be issued soon. Justice Kaul stated that as far as the appointment of the chief justice of a high court, which has been pending for a considerable amount of time, and particularly, for a sensitive state like Manipur, it was submitted that the file had been cleared, and the notification would be issued shortly.
The judge, pausing in the middle of his dictation, sternly asked Attorney-General for India R Venkataramani for the same to be done by the next date.
While reiterating its objection to the government’s non-compliance and not releasing the notification within the prescribed timeline, the bench adverted to the Manipur High Court, where the position of the chief justice has been lying vacant since February, despite the supreme court’s collegium recommending the name of Justice Mridul in July itself.
Justice Kaul criticised the attorney-general over the government sitting on the collegium’s recommendation, referring to the Manipur HC as a ‘sensitive high court’. This year, since May, the northeastern state has been in the shackles of a prolonged and violent ethnic clash where the citizens have been the victims of unprecedented brutality and this situation has required the court’s intervention at crucial moments. Presently, Justice MV Muralidaran is serving as Manipur High Court’s acting chief justice.
Appointment of the Chief Justice
On 6th July, 2023, the Supreme Court collegium, composed of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sanjiv Khanna, had recommended the appointment of the Delhi High Court judge Justice Siddharth Mridul as the chief justice of the Manipur High Court.
This recommendation was followed by a previous one made on 9th February which recommended Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur to be appointed to the position, after the former chief justice, PV Sanjay Kumar, was elevated to the Supreme Court. At the time when the collegium recommended Justice Mridul’s promotion, Justice Thakur’s recommendation was still pending before the union government. Consequently, the collegium recommended Justice Thakur for the position of chief justice of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, which necessitated a new recommendation for the Manipur High Court. Even after the passage of almost three months, Justice Mridul’s name for the position, still has not been cleared by the Centre.