HC Advocate had raised the issue regarding appointment of 27 Addl. Judges in HC although their approved strength is 21
Chandigarh – With the President of India in the Department of Justice, Union Ministry of Law & Justice issuing a Notification under Article 217(1) of Constitution of India on 27 April 2023 six Additional Judges of Punjab and Haryana High Court have become (Permanent) Judges months ahead before expiry of their scheduled term which is two years from the date of appointment as Additional Judge.
Meanwhile Hemant Kumar, an Advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court said while the expiry of two years term of Justice Vikas Bahl as Additional Judge was due on 24 May 2023, in case of rest five viz. Justice(s) Vikas Suri, Sandeep Moudgil, Vinod Sharma (Bhardwaj), Pankaj Jain and Jasjit Singh Bedi, such expiry of two years term was six months ahead i.e. till 28 Oct 2023.
Hemant further said that under normal circumstances, an Additional Judge is appointed as Permanent Judge of the High Court on completion of two years of his tenure as Additional Judge. However there have been instances where this period of two years has been increased or decreased. One Ramendra Jain, who was appointed as Additional Judge in Punjab & Haryana High Court in Apr, 2015 was made Permanent Judge three and half year later in Oct, 2018. There has also been a case in 2021 when one Girish Agnihotri who was appointed Additional Judge in Oct, 2019 was not even made Permanent Judge in Oct, 2021.
Pertinent that six months ago on Nov 1, 2022 nine viz. Kuldeep Tiwari, Gurbir Singh, Deepak Gupta, Amarjot Bhatti, Manisha Batra, Harpreet Kaur Jeewan, Sukhvinder Kaur, Sanjeev Berry and Vikram Aggarwal were appointed as Additional Judges of Punjab & Haryana High Court for a period of two years. However, the tenth Ritu Tagore was appointed as Additional Judge till 28 Sep 2024 i.e. when she would attain the age of 62 years as is fixed for superannuation of a High Court Judge.
Now the catch was that after appointment of the aforementioned ten Additional Judges, the strength of total Judges means Permanent and Additional then got increased to 66 i.e. 39 Permanent and 27 Additional. However, the total approved (sanctioned) strength of Judges in Punjab and Haryana HC is 85 i.e. 64 Permanent and 21 Additional.
Hence, Hemant on Nov 1 2023 itself firstly filed an RTI application with the Department of Justice seeking complete information pertaining to current sanctioned/approved posts of Additional Judges in Punjab and Haryana High Court being raised from 21 to 27 or more, if any, till date. On 30 Dec 2022, a one liner reply was given by the concerned Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) in Department of Justice which mentioned that the current sanctioned strength of Punjab and Haryana High Court is 85 (Permanent 64 and Additional 21). The First Appeal preferred against the aforementioned reply was also dismissed by the Appellate Authority in the Department of Justice.
Additionally, on 14 Dec 2022, Hemant also filed a RTI with Punjab & Haryana High Court seeking complete information as available with it pertaining to raising of strength of posts of Additional Judges in HC from 21 to 27 or more, if any, since as on date 27 Additional Judges were working in HC although the approved strength of Additional Judges is 21.
The reply dated 5 Jan 2023 given by the Joint Registrar (Rules) who is Public Information Officer (PIO) of the High Court mentioned that 6 names of Additional Judges for being appointed as Permanent Judges are (then) pending consideration with the Government of India. It also mentioned that no information with regard to approved posts of Additional Judges being raised from 21 to 27 or more is available on the record (i.e. of HC).
Meanwhile, Advocate Hemant on 2 Jan 2023 even tweeted in this regard to the President of India, Prime Minister, Union Minister of Law and Justice, Department of Justice as well as Chief Minister’s Offices (CMOs) of both Punjab and Haryana.
Hemant further told apart from the aforementioned 10 as appointed six months ago on Nov 1, 2022, in case of 11 other Additional Judges who got appointed on 16 Aug 2022 viz. Nidhi Gupta, Sanjay Vashisth, Tribhuvan Dahiya, Namit Kumar, Harkesh Manuja, Aman Choudhary, Naresh Singh Shekhawat, Harsh Bunger, Jagmohan Bansal, Deepak Manchanda and Alok Kumar Jain, the date of expiry of their present term as Additional Judge is till 15 Aug 2024. Meanwhile, on 10 April this month, Harpreet Singh Brar was appointed as another Additional Judge in Punjab & Haryana High Court.
Recently, on April 27, 2023 Justice Sanjeev Prakash Sharma, Judge of Patna High Court was transferred to Punjab and Haryana High Court. His Parent High Court is the Rajasthan High Court. Justice Sharma was elevated as Additional Judge (from Bar) there on 16 Nov 2016 and was made Permanent Judge on 16 March 2018. He was thereafter transferred from Rajasthan High Court and joined Patna High Court in Jan, 2022. His superannuation is scheduled in Sep, 2026.
Hence, the working strength of Punjab and Haryana High Court at Chandigarh has increased to one more to 67 out of total approved strength of 85. Now with appointment of the aforementioned 6 Additional Judges as Permanent Judges and appointment by transfer of Justice Sanjeev Prakash Sharma, who is a Permanent Judge, now the strength of Permanent Judges has increased to 45 against the approved strength of 64 Permanent Judges while the number of Additional Judges now stands at 22 although the sanctioned strength of Additional Judges is 21.
However, in this year 2023 seven Permanent Judges of Punjab and Haryana High Court are due to retire which include Justice Harinder Singh Sidhu on 16 May, Justice Sudhir Mittal on 5 June, Justice Ashok Kumar Verma on 8 June, Justice Jaishree Thakur on 23 July, Justice HS Madan on 3 Aug, Justice BS Walia on 27 Aug and Justice Harnaresh Singh Gill on 25 Sep. Apart from this, the incumbent Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Ravi Shankar Jha’s superannuation is also scheduled for 13 Oct 2023. His Parent High Court is Madhya Pradesh High Court. However, before retirement, he might get elevated as a Judge in the Supreme Court of India and thus remain as Judge in the Apex Court till Oct, 2026.