The Supreme Court today said the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for appointments to the higher judiciary has been cleared and the process of filling the vacancies in the high courts was proceeding on a “war footing”.

A bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar, while disposing of PILs seeking filling of vacancies for reducing the huge pendency of cases, said progress has been made and the number of posts of judges in high courts would be increased by 25 per cent in 2014 but half the seats in high courts were still vacant.

Image result for image of supreme court chief justice of india Jagdish Singh Khehar

CJI Jagdish Singh Khehar. image courtesy: Times of India

“We should fill up the existing vacancies first…what is the point of asking for more (judges) when we cannot fill up the existing vacancies,” said the bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Sanjay K Kaul.

The bench’s remarks assume significance in the backdrop of repeated criticism by the Union Law Ministry over the demand to create more posts when more than 200 vacancies in high courts and around 4,900 vacancies in the subordinate courts were yet to be filled up.

Earlier, this month the Supreme Court collegium finalised the MoP for appointment of judges in the higher judiciary, ending a year-long face-off with the executive by agreeing to include the contentious clause of national security in selection of judges.

It had agreed to the national security clause, which the government had been insisting be included as one of the necessary criteria for appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.

The collegium after deliberations had also agreed on setting up secretariats in the apex court and the high courts to collate data about judges and assist in the selection procedure for their appointment to the higher judiciary.

The apex court had on November 18, last year said it had not accepted the Centre’s stand of rejecting the 43 names recommended by the Supreme CourtCollegium for appointment as judges of the various high courts and most of the names have been sent back for reconsideration.

The Centre had told the court that it has cleared 34 names out of the 77 recommended by the collegium.

The court had at an earlier hearing said it would not tolerate “logjam in judges’ appointment” and intervene to “fasten accountability as the justice delivery system is collapsing”.

The bench had said that if the government had reservation about any name, it could always come back to the collegium.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, who appeared for one of the petitioners, Ashwini Upadhyay, rued that the budgetary allocation for the judiciary was as low as 0.2 per cent of the total annual budget. “Most of these problems would be sorted out if there is a proper budgetary allocation,” said Singh.

The bench retorted, “You have to have faith in us when we tell you that filling up of vacancies is on a war footing. The Memorandum of Procedure (MoP, which will guide all future appointments) is also clear.”

 It pointed out that a committee of senior judges in the Supreme Court has been recently constituted to examine the issues pertaining to judicial appointments and for streamlining and expediting the system.