New Delhi, April 24
Chief Justice of India TS Thakur today broke down at a meeting in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, lamenting government's “inaction” in increasing the number of judges from the present 21,000 to 40,000 to handle the “avalanche” of litigations, saying, “You cannot shift the entire burden on the judiciary.”
“Nothing has moved” since 1987 when the Law Commission had recommended increase in the number of judges from then 10 judges per 10 lakh people to 50, an unusually emotional Thakur said.
“Then comes inaction by the government as the increase (in the strength of judges) does not take place,” he said in a choked voice while addressing the inaugural session of Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts here.
"...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, who was seen wiping his eyes, said as the Prime Minister heard him in rapt attention.
Modi, who was not slated to speak as per the schedule of the programme circulated by the Law Ministry, said, “I can understand his (CJI's) pain as a lot of time has lapsed since 1987. Whatever has been the compulsions, but it’s 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 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.
It is the responsibility of all to ensure that the common man continues to have faith in the judiciary and his government will fulfil this task and will not falter in helping to make the common man's life easier, he said.
“Jab jaago tab savera (better late than never),” Modi said, referring to the issues flagged by the CJI.
The Chief Justice 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.
‘Tug-of-war’ between states, Centre
The CJI also spoke of the "tug-of-war" that goes on between the Centre and the states over funding, infrastructure and other issues.
The CJI said while the Central government has maintained that it is committed to help the judiciary, it is the duty of the state governments to improve the infrastructure and increase the manpower.
The states, he noted, want the Centre to provide funds for the purpose. "While the tug-of-war goes on, 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," the CJI said.
The courts have drawn flak for the mounting pendency of cases with litigants at their wits end owing to repeated adjournments and rising costs.
The Chief Justice said, "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 recalled that in one such conference he had attended as the Gujarat Chief Minister, he had flagged the issue of reducing vacation in courts and holding morning and evening courts but during lunch break during that event he was in for trouble as some judges had questioned the idea.
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.
"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.
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 1,215 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 3,247. In 1977, the strength was 18 and the cases were 14,501. By 2009, as is the case today, the strength of SC judges rose to 31 and the pending cases spiralled by 77,181.
"In 2014, the cases were 81,582 which were reduced to 60,260...On December 2 when I took over as CJI and now, 17,482 cases were filed out of which 16,474 cases were disposed," he said.
Referring to the pendency of cases, he said the High Courts have over 38 lakh cases to dispose and the number is increasing.
According to latest Law Ministry figures, the approved strength of the subordinate judiciary is 20,214 with 4,580 vacancies. The approved strength of the 24 high courts is 1,056 where the vacancies are 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. — PTI
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