Dr Suresh Mathew
Hard facts first. A whopping 3.5 crore cases are pending in various courts across the country. Of these, 65,000 are in the Supreme Court; 44 lakhs in 24 High Courts; and 2.6 crore in lower courts. Over 10 per cent cases are pending for more than 10 years and 25 per cent cases for more than 5 years. There is yet another set of facts one should look into. The strength of the judiciary – from magistrates at the lower level to Supreme Court Judges at the highest level – is less than 18,000 as against a perceived requirement of 50,000. Compare both these sets of data with the Law Commission’s recommendation that there is need for 50 judges per 10 lakh people. However, the present ratio is 10 judges per 10 lakh. These are startling facts which stare at a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic which assures in its Constitution ‘social, economic and political justice’.
It is in this background of overburdened and heavily understaffed courts that one has to look at the recent lament of the Chief Justice of India, T. S. Thakur. Almost throwing up his hands, pitted against a mountain of cases, he appealed to the government to appoint more judges to tackle the situation. His exasperation stems from the fact that the government is sitting over 170 names sent to it by the Supreme Court Collegium for appointment as judges in High Courts, where as many as 434 posts are vacant. The government is trying to get even with the apex court which had set aside the government’s law to set up a National Judicial Appointment Commission. The NJAC would have given politicians and civil society members a say in the appointment of Judges to higher courts. The CJI’s pointed question, in the presence of the Prime Minister and other top dignitaries of the NDA government, as to how many days are needed for clearing the pending names casts a doubt on the intention of the government and its extraneous considerations.
At a time when justice remains a far cry, especially for the common man, the Judiciary and the government should work in tandem to find some way out. On its part, the government should not stand on prestige; it should speed up clearing the names of judges and fill up vacancies. As an urgent measure, it should also fast-track the process of creation of more posts at all levels of judiciary. Man power shortage is one of the greatest impediments in imparting justice. On the other hand, the judiciary too should put in extra working hours for clearing long-pending cases. It should also cut down on long vacations, which should remain a privilege of school and college students alone. Courts should take an uncompromising stand on adjournment of cases on flimsy grounds. Each case should be taken to its logical conclusion in a time-bound manner. If some of these remedial measures are not taken urgently, justice will suffer even more than at present.
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