New Delhi, August 17: The Supreme Court collegium, which decides on the appointment of judges in high courts, met last week after a break of nearly four months to start deliberations and send fresh proposals to the central government, ThePrint has learnt.

Sources in the Supreme Court said the appointing panel, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde, discussed appointments for Gujarat, Allahabad, Patna and Kerala high courts. The other members of this panel are Justices N.V. Ramana and Arun Mishra. Justice Mishra is due to retire on 3 September.

An official in know of the development told ThePrint that the collegium is expected to meet again this week to take up appointments for other courts as well.

As reported by ThePrint, there are 120 proposals, including over a dozen returned by the government for reconsideration, that are pending with the collegium.

The officer also said meetings are likely to accelerate appointments for high courts, which are grappling with a 40 per cent shortage of judges.

Restricted functioning of courts due to the Covid-19 pandemic has added to delay in these appointments. High vacancies have, on several occasions, been a flashpoint between the judiciary and government, with both blaming each other.

Of the 1,079 sanctioned strength, there are 388 vacancies in 25 high courts. Allahabad High Court is short of 57 judges, Calcutta High Court 34 and Delhi High Court 28, according to data from the Ministry of Law and Justice.

According to the procedure, names for high court judges are first cleared by the collegium of the high court concerned. While one file is sent to the government, the other is submitted to the Supreme Court collegium that takes up the names once it receives the central government’s suggestions.

Face-to-face meetings of the Supreme Court collegium had stopped after the nationwide lockdown was announced on 24 March. The collegium also did not have personal interaction with those whose names were recommended for high courts.

The panel had last met in April when names for appointments of judges to Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh high courts were cleared. A resolution was also passed at the time to approve three additional judges in the Calcutta High Court as permanent members.

Some other appointments were also later cleared through resolutions circulated among the panel members. These were not fresh appointments but cases where additional judges were to be confirmed as permanent members and transfer of judges.

According to another officer, these resolutions did not require much deliberation among the collegium members and were, therefore, approved through circulation. For fresh appointments, however, it is necessary to hold physical meetings, the officer added.

The other high-powered panel of five judges, responsible to elevate high court judges to the Supreme Court, also met last week to deliberate on the probable candidates for three vacancies.

The sanctioned strength of the apex court is 34 but there are 31 judges, including the CJI, at present.

With Justice Mishra’s retirement on 3 September, the number of vacancies in the top court will rise to four. Led by CJI Bobde, the collegium for Supreme Court appointments  comprises of Justices Ramana, Mishra, R.F. Nariman and U.U. Lalit.

According to sources, four names were discussed among the collegium members for appointments to the top court, including that of a woman judge. However, no consensus was reached.

“This panel will meet soon to finalise the proposal so that it can be sent before the retirement of Justice Mishra,” the source added.

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