Kumar’s name has been forwarded to the Appointment Committee of Cabinet on the recommendation of Chief Justice S H Kapadia. As reported by The Indian Express Wednesday, Kapadia and Kumar were part of a three-judge bench that last month ensured more work for the NGT by ordering the transfer of all environment-related cases to the two-year-old tribunal.
“There is a competition among the judges to get these appointments. And in a modern world, they are required to make certain compromises. The real question is to what extent the esteem and integrity of judges can be compromised for getting these positions,” said a Bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopdhaya.
Hearing two petitions relating to the appointment and service conditions of members of quasi-judicial bodies, including the NGT, Singhvi expressed his strong displeasure at the fact that the NGT chairperson had not been appointed by September 15 as ordered by the court on May 3.
When apprised by Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman that the CJI had in August recommended the name of Kumar for the post, Singhvi remarked: “We don’t differentiate between Judge X and Judge Y. This body is headless for almost a year now. It is perhaps the most important tribunal in the last 50 years. We had directed that the chairperson must be appointed on or before September 15 and it has clearly been not complied with. We want to know when are you going to appoint the chairperson.”
Saying that the NGT Act not only allowed the appointment of a retired SC judge but also a serving SC judge to the post, Singhvi burst into laughter with his fellow judge as he said, “Sitting judges are also available, including both of us.”
Kumar, who is incidentally also the chairperson of the committee that selects NGT members, is due to retire from the apex court in December.
The court reminded the SG that a former SC judge’s name - Justice RV Raveendran - had also been recommended for the post earlier but the government kept him waiting, forcing a “man with dignity” to withdraw his consent.
Nariman told the bench that in May, the Centre had asked the CJI to send another name after Raveendran opted out and the CJI had in August recommended the name of Kumar. “The recommendation has been sent for seeking approval of the ACC on September 17,” Nariman’s affidavit to the court said.
While Nariman said the government required four weeks to appoint the NGT chairperson, the affidavit said the government proposed filling up all vacant positions, including those of judicial members, by December-end.
The bench, which in May had ordered the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing to get Faridkot House in the capital vacated from the National Human Rights Commission for making available to the NGT, also pulled up the ministry for not issuing necessary orders.
On being informed by Additional Solicitor General A S Chandhiok that a part of the property could be made available immediately, Singhvi said that the place had to be vacated and that no representation by the NHRC, which is headed by former CJI K G Balakrishnan, required to be entertained.
“Even if the NHRC chairperson or anyone else puts forth his demand regarding the space, we outrightly reject it. He is not above the orders of this court,” said the bench, asking the government to issue necessary orders in a week.
It also passed severe strictures against the Centre for not providing adequate facilities for tribunals in the country and told Attorney General G E Vahanvati that “prima facie, we are of the view that no appointment should be made to the tribunals unless you provide for working facilities and also give these retired judges facilities equivalent to sitting judges”.
While the AG described it as a “complex problem” the government will strive to resolve as soon as possible, the bench said that it was of the opinion that no “self-respecting” judge should take up these appointments unless adequate infrastructure was available.