New Delhi: Hours after the Supreme Court reprimanded the Narendra Modi led-government for its unwillingness to fill the vacancies in the country's High Courts, the Congress on Friday lambasted the centre for "eroding" and undermining" the independence of judiciary.
Addressing the media, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi accused the government of using the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) as an instrument of blackmailing the judiciary.
"We know this government's track record in showing its intolerance of dissent, eroding one pillar of democracy, free speech including press freedom as well we have seen its attack on institutions. We have seen its scant on secularism and we are now seeing a clear attempt to demean, control or embarrass the judiciary.
"It is very regrettable that the Memorandum of Procedure is being used by the government as an instrument of blackmail, suggesting that the government will not clear appointments on time or will clear it except for huge delay and make judiciary agree to the MoP proposed by the government," Singhvi said.
He said that the Centre was pressuring the legal system as it wants its nominees in the judicial appointment process.
"We cannot have a Supreme Court undermined, sabotaged by bargaining in this manner on the MoP, the state of affairs is shocking," he said.
Expressing its anguish over the tardy process, the bench headed by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur earlier in the day said that it has been very patient and tolerant but the government's inaction is scuttling the process of judicial appointments.
"We are not trying to be adversarial, but want cordiality to continue," the apex court bench said.
Noting that courtrooms across the country are being locked because of lack of judges, the bench said the collegium has made various recommendations for the appointment of judges but the government is sitting on them.
The collegium proposes names after due deliberations and vetting but in some cases the recommended names have seen no movement from the government for over nine months, the court said.
Stating that the government is free to express its reservations, the bench said the ruling dispensation must return the names to the collegium instead of sitting on them.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the court that there is a need to finalise the MoP before passing the names.
The apex court has fixed the matter for further hearing on November 11.
The apex court is particularly peeved at the pendency of 35 appointments it had cleared for the Allahabad High Court, the first batch of eight on January 28 and the second for appointment of 27 judges in August, both are yet to be notified.
In the last week of September, the government notified appointment of at least 25 judges. The apex court collegium is believed to have cleared more than 100 names for appointment to several High Courts after scrapping the National Judicial Appointments Commission in October 2015.
In the first batch of recommendations sent to the government in January for the Allahabad High Court, the apex court collegium is believed to have recommended eight out of 19 advocates approved by the Allahabad High Court collegium and rejected 11.