SC gets 5 new judges, now two short of its full strength of 34

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New Delhi: Five judges were appointed to the Supreme Court on Saturday, taking the total number of judges in the apex court to 32, two short of the full strength.

This comes amid an ongoing tiff between the government and the judiciary over the process of appointing judges to the Supreme Court and the 25 high courts.

Law Minister Kiren Rijiju tweeted to announce the appointment of Justice Pankaj Mithal, Chief Justice, Rajasthan High Court; Justice Sanjay Karol, Chief Justice, Patna High Court; Justice P V Sanjay Kumar, Chief Justice, Manipur High Court; Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah of Patna High Court; and Justice Manoj Misra of Allahabad High Court as apex court judges.

Their names were recommended by the Supreme Court Collegium on December 13 last year.

The Supreme Court and the government have openly expressed their differences over the Collegium system of appointment of judges in the higher judiciary.

Law Minister Rijiju recently described the Collegium as being "alien" to the Indian Constitution, while Vice President and Rajya Sabha chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar the questioned the Supreme Court striking down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act and a related constitution amendment Act in 2015.

Through the NJAC law, the government had sought to replace the Collegium system of appointing SC and HC judges with a new method.

A Supreme Court bench on Friday made strong observations while questioning the delay on part of the government in appointing and transferring judges cleared by the SC Collegium.

But a senior government functionary insisted that the five appointments were not linked to the case in the apex court.

He said the prime minister had cleared the file on February 2, a day before the SC made the observations, and the appointment process was already in the final stages.

The appointments came in due course, he added.

The President signed their warrants of appointment on Saturday.

The Centre had on Friday assured the Supreme Court that the Collegium's recommendation for the appointment of five judges in the apex court will be cleared soon.

Attorney General R Venkataramani had told a bench of justices S K Kaul and A S Oka that the warrant of appointments of these five names is expected to be issued shortly.

Once the five take oath early next week, the strength of the apex court will go up to 32 judges. At present the top court is functioning with 27 judges, including the Chief Justice of India. Its sanctioned strength, including the CJI, is 34.  On January 31, the Supreme Court collegium had recommended two more names for elevation as top court judges -- Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Gujarat High Court Chief Justice Aravind Kumar.

Once they are appointed and take oath, the top court will have its full strength of 34.

While recommending the two names, the SC Collegium had said that the names sent by it on 13 December 2022 "shall have precedence over the two names recommended presently for appointment to the Supreme Court." Acting chief justices have been appointed in the high courts of Rajasthan, Manipur and Patna following the appointment of their respective chief justices to the apex court.

While Justice Manindra Mohan Shrivastava has been made acting chief justice of the Rajasthan HC, Justice Chakradhari Sharan Singh will hold the office of the chief justice of the Patna HC till a regular appointment is made.

Justice M V Muralidharan has been appointed acting chief justice of the Manipur HC.