With the new procedure for appointing judges stuck in the disagreement between the executive and the judiciary, as many as 413 judges’ positions are now lying vacant in the 24 high courts of the country, which are struggling to clear huge backlog of pending cases.
Four of these high courts are functioning with half or less than half their sanctioned strength.
There is a slowdown in appointments since July and no new appointment has been made since Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra took over from Justice JS Khehar on August 28, sources in the law ministry said.
The government had appointed 15 additional judges to the Allahabad (nine) and Punjab and Haryana (six) high courts on July 6 after which no new appointment was made, except naming Justice Surinder Singh Saron as the acting CJ of Punjab and Haryana HC in August and Justice Rakesh Tiwari of the Calcutta HC on September 15.
Six high courts are functioning under acting CJs, namely Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Calcutta, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Manipur. An official in the ministry said the SC collegium – a body of five top judges of the country headed by the CJI that selects judges for appointment – has to take a call on these.
Law ministry officials also said as many as 61 names for appointment as high court judges forwarded to SC collegium are pending. These were sent to the SC collegium during the previous CJI’s term.
On the flip side, the government has not appointed candidates cleared by the collegium “in some cases nearly six months ago”, sources said.
The 61 recommendations include 36 names sent by eight high courts – including Calcutta, Jharkhand, Madras and Bombay — for appointment as judges and 25 names sent by five high courts for elevation of additional judges to permanent judges.
The stand-off between the judiciary and the executive is pushing vacancies to an all-time high and adding to the number of pending cases.
According to reports more than 30 million cases are pending in various courts across the country.
After counting a record of 126 judges’ appointments in one year in 2016 – the highest ever – as one of its key achievements in three years, the ministry now wants the collegium to act first on clearing the revised Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) that guides judges’ appointments.
Earlier this month, six high courts decided to constitute special benches to hear appeals in criminal cases on Saturdays.
The CJI wrote to all high court CJs last week asking them to extend the project to their HCs.