PM Narendra Modi had in April said his government was ready to discuss the judicial issues to find a way out. However, instead of discussing and sorting out all outstanding issues, both have taken contrary stands leading to the present standoff between the executive and the judiciary. It seems both of them are more concerned about protecting their rights than in providing judicial justice to the people.
The issue has come to a boil with CJI T S Thakur stating at an I-day function, organized by the Bar Council of India, “I was hoping he (Modi) will speak about issues plaguing the justice delivery system. However, he did not. I request the government to pay attention to our judiciary, especially appointment of judges.”
Coming barely three days after the CJI threatened to pass judicial orders if the government didn’t clear the logjam over judges’ appointments soon, the comments point to the widening gap between the two sides over the prickly issue.
Justice Thakur had made a rare emotional appeal to PM Modi in April to double the number of judges to handle an “avalanche” of cases and criticized the Centre and state governments for unfairly putting the onus on the judiciary to clear the burgeoning backlog.
As the judiciary and the government spar over the selection of judges, the cases keep on piling up. According to official figures, India’s 24 high courts have nearly four million cases pending before them while 478 out of 1,056 sanctioned posts remain vacant. Around 30 million cases await disposal in trial courts where 4,432 out of 20,502 sanctioned posts of judges were yet to be filled. The SC too has only 28 judges against the sanctioned strength of 31 judges to tackle around 60,000 cases.
The Indian judicial system is one of the largest in the world. But, according to a 2012 National Court Management Systems report, although the number of judges increased six-fold in the last three decades, the number of cases shot up 12-fold.
Even by conservative estimates, the number of cases reaching courts will touch 15 crores requiring at least 75,000 judges in the next three decades, the report said.
There are other factors also that contribute to the pile-up of cases. The infrastructure available for courts – particularly lower courts – is inadequate, besides serious shortage of judges. Many courts function from rented buildings, while nearly 7,000 proposals for building courthouses were still awaiting state governments’ clearance.
Despite the Law Commission, parliamentary standing committee and the Supreme Court saying that the judge-population ratio in India should have 50 judges per one million people, the ratio continues to be abysmally low at 13 judges per one million people.
“Nothing has moved” since 1987 when the Law Commission had recommended an increase in the number of judges from then 10 judges to 50 judges per one million people, CJI Thakur had said.