Veteran politician and parliamentarian Okram Joy is right in saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not take interest in matters of a small remote state like Manipur, though the local BJP bigwigs say that the Prime Minister and Union Home Minister Amit Shah is monitoring the situation in Manipur 24x7.
All knows, the two leaders are busy making brownie points against the opposition in view of the ensuing assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattishgarh. As O Joy says, the High Court of Manipur had been neglected enough. Ever since it was established in 25 March 2013, the High Court never had its full strength.
The sanctioned strength is one Chief Justice and five judges. After the elevation Justice Sanjay Kumar to the Supreme Court in February this year, the High Court is functioning with an Acting Chief Justice and two judges. And it is affecting the administration of justice and effective disposal of cases while the number of pending cases is piling up.
At present, Justice MV Murlidharan is functioning as the Acting Chief Justice while Justice A Bimol and Justice A Guneshwar Sharma are the two judges. As he said, as many as 36 election petition cases and 5,519 other cases were still pending due to the lack in number of judges. He had submitted an application to the Union Law minister in March regarding the vacancy but no response was received. He pointed out that under section 86(7) of Representation of People Act, election petition cases are supposed to be closed within six months. But the act has been grossly violated in the case of Manipur.
Former Minister O Joy further said, appointment acting chief justices is a stop-gap arrangement and are supposed to be in the role for only one month or so. However, this has not been applied in the case of Manipur. It is not that, the Supreme Court Collegium had not made its recommendations for the post of Chief Justice of High Court of Manipur.
Not only once but twice, the collegium had made its recommendation. On February 9, the Supreme Court Collegium recommended the appointment of Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur as Chief Justice of the Manipur High Court. He was the brother of former Chief Justice of India Tirath Singh Thakur.
The Union Law Ministry, however, never made the appointment and later on Justice DS Thakur became the Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court.
The Collegium has reconsidered Justice Thakur’s elevation to Manipur and has proposed his elevation as the Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court.
The office of the Chief Justice of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh fell vacant on May 19, 2023 with the elevation of Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court body noted that Justice Thakur was the senior-most judge from his parent High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, which would get a representation among the Chief Justices of the High Courts. Then, the Supreme Court Collegium on July 6 recommended the name of senior judge of Delhi High Court Siddarth Mridul along with six other judges to man the post of Chief Justice in various high courts. But then, it has been kept pending since.
We understand that the Supreme Court and the Union Government is at loggerheads over the matter of appointment of judges under the present collegium system and the Law ministry does not always entertain the recommendations of the Supreme Court collegiums. Instead, the ministry adopts a pick and choose method from among the recommended judges. But we honestly feel that the High Court of Manipur should not become a victim of the said rivalry.
It is also the responsibility of the state Chief Minister to exert due pressure on the Law Ministry for appointing a full-time Chief Justice and fill up the existing vacancies of judges.
Read More: IFP Editorial