K'taka HC vacancies at crippling level

K'taka HC vacancies at crippling level

A recent report that more than 50% of the posts of judges are vacant in the Karnataka high court highlights the crippling state of affairs in the state's highest judicial forum. Of the 62 sanctioned posts, 37 are lying vacant, and all three benches of the court, including those at Dharwad and Kalaburgi, are affected. There are over three lakh pending cases, both civil and criminal, in the court, and it will take many years for it to clear them. The court is finding it difficult to take up fresh cases because of the large backlog. The situation will worsen when more vacancies arise in a few months with the retirement of some judges. A public interest petition was filed in the high court for immediate filling of the vacancies, but the situation is too complicated for a judicial order to resolve.  

The large number of unfilled vacancies are not limited to the Karnataka high court.  Shortage of judges has hit judicial work in all other high courts and even the Supreme Court. There are over three crore cases pending in various courts in the country. Former chief justice of India T S Thakur had said last year that about 70,000 more judges are needed to clear the backlog. The Law Commission had reported a few years ago that at the current pace of disposal, it would take 464 years to clear the backlog of cases. The situation has only worsened since then. The basic problem with appointments is that they can be made only when the Supreme Court and the central government work together and there is cooperation and understanding between the two. This has been lacking ever since the Supreme Court quashed the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) legislation, which rightly gave a role for the executive in the selection and appointment of judges of the higher courts. The process of appointments is ostensibly stuck, with the Supreme Court collegium and the government failing to agree on a revised Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) which the court wanted to be put in place.  

It is not that appointments are not being made at all but the process is very slow and far from smooth because of the differences between the government and the court. A bench of the Supreme Court recently asked the government to explain why the MoP was being delayed. Another bench has now recalled that order. The judiciary should actually agree to give the executive its due and legitimate role in the process and see to it that a mechanism suitable for democracy is created for judicial appointments. The present difficult situation should be rectified immediately.  

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