PM assures emotional CJI of govt support in increasing judge strength

PM assures emotional CJI of govt support in increasing judge strength

PM assures emotional CJI of govt support in increasing judge strength
An emotional CJI T S Thakur today lamented "inaction" by the Executive to increase the number of judges from the present 21,000 to 40,000 to handle the "avalanche" of litigations even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured him of his government's resolve in finding a solution jointly with the judiciary.

"...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.

Addressing the inaugural session of Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts, Justice Thakur said that since 1987, when the Law Commission had recommended increase in the number of judges from then 10 judges per 10 lakh people to 50, "nothing has moved".

"Then comes inaction by the government as the increase (in the strength of judges) does not take place," he said.

He said following the Law Commission's recommendation, the Supreme Court in 2002 had also supported increasing the strength of the judiciary. A Parliamentary Department Related Standing Committee on Law then headed by Pranab Mukherjee had also recommended taking the judge to people ratio to 50 from 10.

As of today, the judge to people ratio stands at 15 judges to 10 lakh people which is way less than as compared to the US, Australia, the UK and Canada.

"In 1987, the requirement was 40,000 judges. From 1987 till now, we have added 25 crore in terms of population. 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.

"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," he said, referring to Modi government's 'Make in India' and 'Ease of doing business' campaigns

Modi, who was not slated to speak as per the schedule of the programme circulated by the Law Ministry, said if constitutional barriers do not create any problems, then top ministers and senior Supreme Court judges can sit together in a closed room to find a solution to the issue.

The Prime Minister also said that it is the responsibility of all to ensure that the common man continues to have faith in the judiciary and his government will fulfil the responsibility and will not falter in helping to make the common man's life easier.

"Jab jaago tab savera" (better late than never)," Modi said, referring to the issues flagged by Justice Thakur.

"I can understand his pain as a lot of time has lapsed since 1987. Whatever has been the compulsions, but its better to be late than never. We will do better in the future. Let us see how to move forward by reducing the burden of the past," he said.

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.

He also asked the state Chief Ministers present at the event to increase the cadre strength of the lower judiciary.

While lauding the new law to create commercial divisions in the high courts and the commercial courts at the lower level, the CJI said the new courts need separate infrastructure and new judges.

He said without proper infrastructure and environment, such courts will not serve the purpose as dealing with cases that require a different handling.

"Old wine in a new bottle will not serve the purpose," he said, adding that an "emotional appeal" made by him "may work" in getting the government take note of the problems being faced by the judiciary.

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.

He said while the central government has maintained that it is committed to helping the judiciary, it is the duty of the state governments to improve the infrastructure and increase the manpower.

The states, the CJI said, want the Centre to provide funds for the purpose. "While the tug-of-war goes on, the strength of judges remains where it is...five crore cases were processed and two crore were disposed. But there is a limit to the capacity of the performance of judges," he said.

On the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act which sought to scrap the collegium system under which judges appoint judges, he said as the "controversy" was in the Supreme Court, the vacancies kept on increasing. The law was struck down by the apex court following which the collegium system made a comeback.

Justice Thakur said the collegium has now cleared all proposals sent to it in six weeks. While 145 judges were either elevated as permanent judges in the high courts or were appointed as additional judges, 169 proposals were still pending with the government, he said.

"How much time does it require when there is an avalanche of cases," he said. The CJI said 50 per cent of the recommendations made by the high courts were rejected by the collegium as "we have raised the bar".

He also supported the idea of implementing provisions in Article 224 of the Constitution of using the services of retired judicial officers in running courts, saying it would be "criminal" to let their experience go waste after their retirement.

He referred to a letter written by then CJI Altamas Kabir to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in February 2013 where the issues of manpower and infrastructure were flagged.

Singh had acknowledged the problem and had committed his government to resolving the issue.

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 20214 with 4580 vacancies. The approved strength of the 24 high courts is 1056 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.
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