New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday dug in its heels on the names recommended by its collegium for appointment as high court judges, drawing battle lines with the centre.

“We have reiterated the 43 names and sent them back for reconsideration," Chief Justice T.S. Thakur told attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, the centre’s highest law officer.

Last week, the centre had rejected 43 recommendations out of the 77 made by the apex court’s collegium.

As per rules of the collegium system, the centre is bound by the court’s recommendations when made the second time.

“The centre is now bound by the collegium recommendations and cannot reject it. However, the impasse can continue if the government chooses to sit on the file and delay appointment," said a senior lawyer who did not wish to be identified.

The court had earlier expressed dissatisfaction over the progress made by the government in the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary, saying that executive inaction is crippling the judiciary.

As of 1 October, there are at least 464 vacancies in 24 high courts across the country, according to the ministry of law and justice.

The collegium of the apex court, consisting of five senior-most judges, makes recommendations to the government on appointment of judges.

On 16 October last year, a five-judge constitution bench rejected the government’s plans to revamp the manner in which judicial appointments are made in the country. Striking down a constitutional amendment and the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) which introduced a six-member panel consisting of the chief justice of India, two senior most judges of the apex court, the law minister and two eminent persons, the court said the collegium system stood restored.

However, the court had agreed that the collegium is opaque and invited suggestions to improve the system but left it to the Centre to draw up the memorandum of procedure (MoP) for appointing judges. The court received about 1,500 suggestions, running into 11,000 pages.

The MoP, another bone of contention between the Centre and the judiciary, is supposed to lay down the process of making higher judicial appointments. Even after a year of the NJAC verdict, the MoP is yet to be finalised.

The case will be heard next in January.

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