(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)
Chief Justice of India T S Thakur, has yet again accused the government of delay in filling the 442 judicial vacancies in the High Courts. Recently, out of the 77 names recommended by the Collegiums to the government, 34 judges have been appointed and 43 returned for reconsideration. All over again, the Collegiums has returned the same 44 names for appointment by the government.
As per media reports, the Collegiums has recommended only 170 names. Why? Why not 442 names? The CJI must first provide an answer before pointing his accusing finger at the government.
Quite obviously, the CJI is deliberately attempting to have a virtual showdown with the government. Surely, it is not the right path to traverse by the highest authority of judiciary in the land.
Naturally, the government cannot be expected to take his oft-repeated barbs against the government.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, Law Minister, has retorted by questioning the CJI for not filling the 4,937 judicial vacancies in the district and subordinate courts all over the country.
Surely, this is the responsibility of the judiciary. Why is the CJI silent on the issue? After all, majority of cases are pending in the lower courts. “Aam Admi” is most harried person for delays in the disposal of cases.
The real problem is pendency of cases: over 2.70 crore cases in District Courts (2,32,3781 cases pending over 10 years); 38 lakh cases in the High Courts as of 2015 (7,45,029 pending for over a decade); and 61,436 cases in the Supreme Court.
The average vacancies in the Supreme Court, high courts and lower courts is about 10, 30 and 20 per cent, respectively.
As per media reports, criminal cases disposal in a trial court takes anything between 94 and 822 days; and in the case of sessions court, it takes an average of one year and two months.
Around 33.5 per cent of cases were lying stagnant for five-plus years in subordinate courts compared with 43 per cent in the High Courts.
Most importantly, Judiciary is part of the problem of judicial vacancy and case pendency. It must also be part of the solution.
The root cause for phenomenal delays in disposal of cases lies at the doorsteps of the Judiciary only – archaic procedures that permit repeated adjournment on trivial issues.
Instead of setting the house of judiciary right first, why is the CJI targeting the government?
In retrospect, the CJI is misleading the nation particularly with regard to disposal of cases in the Supreme Court. Ipso facto, the average vacancies in the Supreme Court over the years has varied between 4-5 only.
The CJI should first answer the reason for not filling 4,937 vacancies (out of 21,320 sanctioned strength of judicial officers in district and subordinate courts as on June 30, 2016).
Some argue that it is difficult to find good people to fill vacancies of judges. If India cannot find 21,320 judges, what purpose will be served by sanctioning 70,000 judges?
In retrospect, even if all the existing vacancies are filled in all courts, pendency of cases will remain more or less the same if the rules and procedures are not radically altered.
Since court rooms are lying vacant, even the need to create additional infrastructure does not exist if the vacancies are filled expeditiously first.
Like all other institutions, even the focus or mantra of legal luminaries is four-fold increase in the sanctioned strength of judges – empire building exercises.
Ironic, but true, none is talking about speedy disposal of cases by reforming the rules and procedures – lack of professionalism.
Let me reiterate that the real problem of pendency lies in the archaic judicial processes. The judicial delivery system is dysfunctional with many adjournments due to trivial reasons resulting in phenomenal delays. So, solutions require the courts to drastically change the way in which they work.
The responsibility of disposal of appeals against judgments of lower courts cases must be delegated to District Judges. The real problem lies at the door steps of lower courts at the District level. Even they too cannot be blamed for the current plight and woes of litigants. Surely, “time lines” for disposal of cases can be specified including by “fast Track” courts.
Even cases like murders, dacoit etc., be disposed off at the High Court level only. Only rarest of rare cases should be considered by the Supreme Court.
If the CJI is earnest, he must first address the issue of refining the judicial processes ensuring fewer delays which is within his ambit of responsibility. Instead of addressing the issues by internal reforms with utmost expedition, the Chief Justice is resorting to the proverbial ‘blame game’. Why internal reforms to the processes have not been implemented even after almost 70 years?
In sum, the CJI must address the shortcomings in house in the judiciary before going overboard to justify the phenomenal delay in adjudicating justice to the people. Of course, the government must also fast track the filling of Judges vacancies both in the Supreme Court and the HighCourts.