According to the data released last year by the Supreme Court, the total number of cases pending in district courts in the country was 2.8 crore as on April 30, 2016. More than 22.5 lakh cases have been pending for over ten years. Over 38.3 lakh cases are pending for over five years, but less than 10 years. 64.5 lakh cases have been pending for more than two years. The states with the highest pendency of cases are UP (23%), Maharashtra (13%), Gujarat (11%), West Bengal (6%) and Bihar (6%). 6.5 lakh cases in UP, 5.2 lakh cases in Gujarat and 2.5 lakh cases in Maharashtra are pending for more than 10 years. As a result, 68% of the 4 lakh people locked up in jails are “undertrial” prisoners. In other words, a whopping 2.7 lakh citizens of our great country are rotting in jail awaiting trial.
Eight months ago in August 2016, while addressing the annual conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of the High Courts, the Ex. Chief Justice of India pulled out his handkerchief to wipe the tears in his eyes in full public glare. Chief Justice of India TS Thakur broke down at the meeting in presence of PM Modi, talking about the unprecedented pressure judges in the country work under. What brought these tears was the burden of cases pending in the judicial system of our country.
He stated that India needed seventy thousand judges to clear the backlog. Since then it has become a matter of intense debate and various people are offering various numbers of judges needed for this purpose. The government and the judiciary had been at loggerheads over judicial appointments ever since a Constitution Bench declared the NJAC Act–which gave some say to the Executive in judges’ appointments–unconstitutional in October 2015.
As the government and judiciary indulged in a slugfest over MoP, the number of vacancies in high courts has crossed more than 45 percent. Out of the close to 1,100 posts of judges in 24 high courts, around 500 were lying vacant. Three of the 31 posts in SC were also vacant.
The SC had revived the collegiums system of judicial appointments put in place by a judicial order in 1993 under which top judges of the Supreme Court appoint judge to the SC and high courts. However, it is admitted that there were lacunae in the collegiums system that needed to be rectified.
Later in December 2015, the same Constitution Bench delivered another verdict that recommended measures to make the collegiums system transparent.
It said the Memorandum of Procedure for appointment of judges should be redrafted in consultation with the government. But the issue has been hanging fire for two years as the government and the collegiums had failed to reach a consensus on the contentious issue.
But a breakthrough was achieved after both the sides ceded some ground to the other. While the collegium accepted the government’s demand to include a clause on national security in the MoP, the latter had to agree that the former would have the last word on it.
After 15 months of tussle between the NDA government and the top court’s collegiums over some tricky issues in Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for appointment of judges including rejection of appointments on grounds of national security were resolved with the efforts of new Chief Justice of India JS Khehar. Under the memorandum cleared, the Centre can ask the collegiums to reconsider a nominee short-listed for a judge’s position on the ground of “national security”, although the collegiums can reaffirm and clear the name if it so chooses.
The collegiums have, however, rejected the NDA government’s plea for an independent secretariat to screen the nominated judges. The collegiums believe that the existing mechanism – under which the personal staff of the five judges constituting the collegiums deals with the issue – is good enough….
Now 51 names were cleared by the collegiums by trimming a list of 90 names received from the various high court collegiums and hopefully new lists will come forward to appoint the backlog of thousands of judges. And then wait when other judges will be appointed at various courts for a common person to receive justice.
The Supreme Court collegiums have again cleared a fresh list on appointments to higher judiciary. The names cleared by the collegiums include lawyers and judicial officers. The collegiums headed by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar held day-to-day sittings and cleared 90-odd names from among the pending names, while rejecting almost 40 per cent of the total names recommended by collegiums of various high courts, almost all of them for reasons of lack of integrity.