Chief Justice T. S. Thakur has been relentlessly pursuing the issue of appointment of Judges with the Government.
The statistics are alarming. As of March 2016, there are 48,418 civil cases pending in the Supreme Court and 31,16,492 civil cases pending in the High Court. The cases pending in the lower Courts have reached an incalculable level. In addition to the civil cases, there are innumerable criminal cases pending where under-trials are languishing in custody. On an average, it takes several decades for a matter to reach finality.
This sorry state of affairs is because the Government is dragging its feet in giving its approval to the names suggested by the Collegium to be appointed as Judges.
Court rooms locked for want of judges
The situation has now reached such absurd limits that the Court rooms are having to be locked for want of judges to hear cases.
The ET reported that in the Karnataka High Court, several court rooms are shut because out of a sanctioned strength of 62 judges, only 26 judges have been appointed.
This is insult to injury. The sanctioned strength is itself very low if one goes by the ideal judge to population ratio. Matters are made worse by the fact that even the vacancies in sanctioned strength are not filled up. As of date, there are 478 vacancies for judges in the High Courts.
Chief Justice T. S. Thakur in tears …
Chief Justice T. S. Thakur has not spared a single occasion to draw the attention of the Government to the woes of the judiciary and the agony of the public in having to wait endlessly for justice.
At the recently held conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices, Chief Justice Thakur became emotional and broke down at the abject apathy of the Government in the matter of appointment of judges.
… But Government is unmoved
However, the Chief Justice’s emotional outburst left Prime Minister Narendra Modi unmoved. Instead, he dismissed the issue in a light-hearted manner.
Deafening silence in Independence day speech
In his Independence Day speech, the Hon’ble Prime Minister spoke of all sundry issues concerning the development of the Country. However, he maintained a deafening silence on the woes plaguing the judiciary.
This did not go down well with Chief Justice Thakur. He publicly criticized the Government and expressed the view that he is disappointed at the fact that the Government is not showing any seriousness towards resolving the problem.
“You heard our very popular and nationalist (deshapriya) Prime Minister speak for one and-a-half hours today. You also heard (the) Union Law Minister speak. I was also hoping justice will find a mention (in the speech). They will talk about appointment of judges,” the Chief Justice said.
The Chief Justice also recited a couplet in Urdu to underline the problems faced by the judiciary. “Gul phenkein auron par, balki samar bhi. ae abr-e-karam ae bahre sakha kuch to idhar bhi (you have strewn flowers and thrown fruits in others’ direction but I am waiting here as well),” he said.
Threat of judicial intervention
The learned Chief Justice also sent a not-so-veiled warning to the Government that the judiciary would be “forced to interfere to break the deadlock” if the Government continued to drag its feet.
“Don’t try to bring this institution to a grinding halt. We won’t tolerate a logjam in judges’ appointment. It is stifling judicial work. We will fasten accountability now. Why is there mistrust? If this logjam continues, we will be forced to interfere judicially. We will ask for every file that was sent to you by the Collegium,” the learned Chief Justice said while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the issue of appointment of judges.
The unseemly public confrontation between the Government and the judiciary has not gone down well with some eminent citizens.
Justice (Retd) Markandey Katju opined that the problems between the Government and the Judiciary are best discussed within four walls and should not be aired in public. However, other eminent personalities supported the outburst on the basis that there is very little option left in the light of the Government’s intransigence on the issue.
Judical time wasted on frivolous issues?
Some leading citizens have expressed the view that the higher judiciary is wasting its resources by focusing on non-essential and frivolous issues. They opined that questions as to what should be the height of the Dahi Handi, what should be the age of the participants in the Dahi handi, how cricket should be played, whether Dance Bars should be allowed etc are administrative issues that are best left to the Government to handle and cannot be decided by the higher judiciary.
The dahi handi order of the Supreme Court is another case of judicial legislation. https://t.co/dZPq7CahiS
— Markandey Katju (@mkatju) August 18, 2016
Supreme Court has time to say Dahi Handi pyramid can't be above 20 feet?
If we make pyramid of your 3cr pending cases, how tall will it be?
— गीतिका (@ggiittiikkaa) August 17, 2016
We live in a nation where yearly event like Dahi Handi is given more importance by CJI Thakur then daily Gang Rapes https://t.co/QEVBURnKof
— Rishi Bagree (@rishibagree) August 17, 2016
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also openly criticized what he called “judicial overreach” and “the judiciary’s obsession to control everything”.
Eminent Jurist Upendra Baxi called the apex court “an institution of governance”.
Government promises to get its act together
Hon’ble Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has promised to address the problems identified by Chief Justice T. S. Thakur. He assured that the appointment of judges would go ahead irrespective of whether the new Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) governing the process was in place or not.