The Ministry of Law & Justice recently released data that shows the shocking level of arrears in the Courts. In the Supreme Court itself, more than 48,418 cases are pending of which 1,132 cases are more than 10 years old. In the High Courts, 31,16,492 civil cases are pending of which more than 5,89,631 cases are pending for more than 10 years.
What has caused this mountain of pending cases is the apathy of the Government towards appointing new judges. There are six vacancies in the Supreme Court, 464 in the High Court and 4,998 in the lower courts. Further, though the Supreme Court had directed in the All India Judges’ Association Case that, on a comparative assessment of the position in other countries, there should be 50 judges for a million population in the country, presently, the Judge (based on sanctioned strength) : population ratio in the country works out to be only 17.72 Judges/Judicial Officers per million population.
Chief Justice T. S. Thakur has been taking every opportunity to remind the Government of its constitutional obligation.
In the context of non-appointment of Members of the ITAT, a Bench presided by the Chief Justice had passed strictures against the Government. “We cleared the names eight months back but the government is sitting over it. We don’t know why” the Bench said. It also lamented that “There is no sense of urgency at all on the part of the government“.
Yesterday, at a conference of Chief Justices and Chief Ministers, the learned Chief Justice lamented that despite repeated reminders, the Government remained apathetic to the miseries of the litigants.
In an emotional tone and with tears welling in his eyes, the learned Chief Justice asked “If you have 170 names sent to you (for appointment of HC judges) for two months, I don’t understand why they are held up, where are those proposals stuck, we should know.” “The vacancies in the high courts have since increased to 470” he added.
Chief Justice Thakur also countered the contention of the Law Minister that it takes time to get reports. “Why should the Intelligence Bureau take months to send its report (on judges’ appointment)? Why can’t the Prime Minister’s Office ask the IB to send its report within 15 days? Why should the IB sit over these reports?” he demanded to know.
The learned Chief Justice also made it clear that he was not impressed by the Prime Minister’s suggestion for introduction of commercial courts: “Hon’ble Prime Minister, the commercial courts project is one of your prime agenda but what’s happening? These commercial courts are being designated out of the existing courts. Will that serve the purpose when the concept was to provide a different environment for commercial disputes? Simply putting old wine in new bottle will not serve the purpose” Justice Thakur said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reaction to the emotional appeal of the learned Chief Justice was ambivalent. On the one hand he said “Jab jaago tab savera (better late than never)” implying that he would act speedily to resolve the crises. On the other hand, he jocularly remarked that he was “in trouble” with the judges ever since he suggested that the vacation period be reduced and working hours be increased. “I am in awe of the judiciary since then” he added, implying that he believes that the irregular functioning of the Courts is responsible for the mounting arrears and not so much the non-appointment of judges to fill the vacancies.