The ‘Modi’ way of looking at the issue should have been to promise quick action to fill up existing vacancies in the judiciary at all levels and assure a solution to other issues flagged by CJI in a time-bound manner
As appointments in government get delayed for various reasons, vacancies at various levels keep increasing. Judiciary’s case is not different. Government and public sector should move forward to a ‘zero-vacancy’ concept sooner than latter.
It is comforting to see that Prime Minister Narendra Modi listened to the plea from the Chief Justice of India’s plea for quickly filling up the existing vacancies at various levels in Indian judiciary. Outsiders (a section of media included) have successfully smuggled into the public mind that all organisations in government and public sector are over-staffed and their inefficient function is primarily attributable to the job security infused laziness of the workforce and inefficient deployment of manpower. This aspect, we will revisit later in another article. For now, let us consider the passionate plea from the CJI.
The CJI T S Thakur, was addressing the inaugural session of the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts in New Delhi on Sunday, April 24, 2016. He said the Law Commission had recommended in 1987 that the judge-population ratio be increased to at least 50 judges per million population and lamented that three decades later, the ratio remained an abysmal 15 judges per million people in a country which had added 25 crore in population since 1987. Saying this, looking towards the Prime Minister, he became emotional and broke down.
"And therefore, it is not only in the name of a litigant or people languishing in jails but also in the name of development of the country, its progress that I beseech you to rise to the occasion and realise that it is not enough to criticise. You cannot shift the entire burden on the judiciary," the Chief Justice of India said in a choking voice, according to media reports.
CJI said that we have grown into one of the fastest growing economies of the world, we are inviting foreign direct investment into the country, we want people to come and make in India, we want people to come and invest in India. He felt that "Those whom we are inviting are also concerned about the ability of the judicial system in the country to deal with cases and disputes that arise out of such investments. Efficacy of the judicial system is so vitally connected with the development."
Justice Thakur said from a munsif to a Supreme Court judge, the average disposal in India is 2,600 cases per annum as compared to 81 cases per annum in the United States. Referring to the pendency of cases, Justice Thakur said the high courts have over 38 lakh cases to dispose of and the number is increasing.
Giving out statistics, Justice Thakur said when the apex court came into being in 1950, it had a strength of 8 judges, including the CJI with 1215 cases pending.
Then, he said, the pendency was 100 cases per judge.
In 1960, the strength of the SC rose to 14 judges and the cases also increased to 3247. In 1977, the strength was 18 and the cases were 14501. By 2009, as is the case today, the strength of SC judges rose to 31 and the pending cases spiralled by 77181.
"In 2014, the number of cases was 81582 which was reduced to 60260. On December 2 when I took over as CJI and now, 17482 cases were filed out of which 16474 cases were disposed of," he said.
According to latest Law Ministry figures, the approved strength of the subordinate judiciary is 20,214 with 4,580 vacancies. The approved strength of the 24 high courts is 1,056 and the vacancy was pegged at 458 as on March one.
In the apex court, there are six vacancies against the sanctioned strength of 31 judges, including the CJI.
There are more than 38 lakh cases pending in the high courts of the country, said the Chief Justice, wondering if it could be found out “like a mathematical question” in schools as to how many judges should be required to decide them. Â”There are 470 vacancies in the high courts. Over six weeks after the judgment (in the NJAC case), we cleared all proposals. So as far as we are concerned, there is no pendency. I have also written to the chief ministers. How much time is required to process appointments when there is an avalanche of cases, and lakhs of undertrials are languishing in jails?” asked Justice Thakur.
Prime Minister said if constitutional barriers do not create any problems, then top ministers and senior Supreme Court judges can sit together to find a solution to the issue. A very guarded consolation, of course. The ‘Modi’ way of looking at the issue should have been to promise quick action to fill up existing vacancies in the judiciary at all levels and assure a solution to other issues flagged by CJI in a time-bound manner.
In my article posted @moneylife.in on February 5, 2013, I had observed in a different context as under:
“There is urgency to fast-track justice not only when sensational issues come up and media/ popular protests highlight them. The immediate measures could include:
• Segregating cases which need to be decided within a year and taking them on a priority basis by the courts now in position.
• Leaving the remaining cases to new Special Courts to be put in place at all levels depending on the number of pending cases.
• Ensuring vacancies of judges are filled in time
• Making it compulsory for government and public sector organizations to expedite procedures where they are on either side of matters before courts. This is necessary as there is laxity on their side as cost and delay seldom affects the individuals who handle cases in government and public sector. This position is slowly creeping into big corporates also.
• Making necessary legislative changes to reduce procedural delays
• Simultaneous efforts to encourage concerned parties to settle issues out of court. This method would bear fruit where party on one side of the dispute is government or quasi-government organizations.
It seems, these observations hold good even today. As new vacancies are sanctioned in government and public sector after due deliberations and most of the time a year or two later from the initiating of processes, the large number of vacancies at various levels directly mean heavy pendency of work. Judiciary’s case is not different. Government and public sector should move forward to a ‘zero-vacancy’ concept sooner than latter.
(MG Warrier is author of the 2014 book "Banking, Reforms & Corruption: Development Issues in 21st Century India")