Punjab & Haryana HC in crisisSharp differences on appointment of judges

The Punjab and Haryana High Court is in crisis again. This time it is on the issue of appointment of Additional District and Sessions Judges in Punjab.
The process of filling up over a score of vacancies of the Additional District and Sessions Judges in the state has been awaiting a decision by the five-member administrative committee of the HC, led by Chief Justice Vijender Jain.
Available information suggests that the committee itself is sharply divided over the selections.
The meeting of the committee for holding the interviews was fixed for earlier this week. Even the timing of the meeting of the committee has contributed to the controversy, which has become the talk of the town.
It appears that the Chief Justice is on one side and two committee members – Justice J.S. Khehar and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel – on the other. In all, the committee consists of five senior-most judges. The other members are – Justice Mehtab Singh Gill and Justice K.S. Garewal.
The Chief Justice fixed June 9 for the interviews. But Justice Khehar and Justice Goel wanted the interviews to be put off till the HC meets after the recess in early July.
The two judges are believed to have informed the Chief Justice, when they met at the farewell dinner of Justice R.S. Madan on May 30, about their inability to attend the interviews as they were going out of station.
Whatever the reason, their disinclination to interview on June 9 is believed to have enraged the Chief Justice. He took the unprecedented step to replace the committee by asking all judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to attend a special full-court meeting the next day.
Notices convening the full court meeting were shot off immediately and reached the residences of the judges a little before midnight.
The matter did not end here. It appears that only 16 out of 42 judges turned up for the “full court” meeting convened by the Chief Justice. As many as 26 judges chose to keep away for one reason or the other from the “full court”.
The Chief Justice and the 16 judges who attended the meeting found the quorum was not complete as the rules demand the presence of 50 per cent of the total strength of the HC, which at present is 42.
As such, with the required number of the judges not present, the “full court” had to adjourn without deciding on the fate of the administrative committee and the interviews. This means that the committee of the judges stays intact, but divided over the main issue of appointment of the Additional District and Sessions Judges in Punjab.
The sources say mere non-availability of the two members may not be the only reason for landing the High Court into crisis. While the Chief Justice is keen on completing the selection process at the earliest – and certainly before he lays down his office on August 2 – other Judges could be trying to delay the process for reasons nobody is prepared to spell out.
The appointments of the High Court Judges and the Additional District and Sessions Judges have generally been controversial in Punjab, and the subject of considerable speculations at the Bar.
Another issue, which is being discussed by the lawyers and the judges, is the proposal for appointing more judges to the HC during the next few weeks. Some judges have reportedly told the Chief Justice that the present HC building does not have even the infrastructure that will be needed for the expanded court.
Already some administrative offices have been moved out of the HC premises because of lack of space.
This is the second time in recent past that differences with the Chief Justice have left the Punjab and Haryana High Court in deep crisis. In 2004, as many as 25 judges had proceeded on mass leave in protest against the functioning of the then Chief Justice B.K. Roy. Only one judge chose to attend the court with him.
The relations between Chief Justice Roy and the judges became so tense that the Supreme Court had to transfer the Chief Justice to the Guwahati High Court.
It remains to be seen how the present row between the Chief Justice and a section of other senior judges will be ultimately be resolved.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008, Chandigarh, India
Saurabh MalikTribune News Service
http://www.tribuneindia.com

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