How pressing is the problem of shortage of judges in India? | Question to CJIs

When the key reason for the delayed justice in India is a shortage of judges, then the judiciary must say so, directly.

Not very long ago, the last Chief Justice of India Justice Tirath Singh Thakur, shed tears in front of the Prime Minister of India. He was pained by the delay in timely delivery of justice and due justice. He squarely blamed the Central Government for stalling appointment of judges to the High Courts. He also blamed the Centre of doing nothing to increase the number of courts and judges in the country. Although he made a very strong attack on the Central Government, a CJI making an emotional appeal to the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) didn’t look good. Quoting his words, the former CJI said: “I feel that if nothing else has helped justice, an emotional appeal might,”.

It didn’t look good because one doesn’t see Judiciary a step below in stature to the executive (the Government). When the executive and judiciary speak from the same dais, then people must see Judiciary at least on the same pedestal, if not higher.

That said, recently the CJI J.S. Khehar and the prime Minister of India Narendra Modi shared the dais once again. This time the occasion was the closing ceremony of the 150th anniversary celebration of the Allahabad High Court.

In his address, which he themed as his “dil ki baat,” (don’t know whether it was a jibe at PM’s similarly titled “Mann Ki Baat” ), the CJI expressed his concern over the high backlog of pending cases in the higher & lower courts and; the urgency to reduce that piling up stack. Again, although the CJI attributed the backlog to shortage of judges; he requested the judges to consider sitting in courts for five days during vacation. The CJI reasoned that this way a minimum of 10 cases would be heard each day.

On the face of it, the suggestion seemed like a proactive solution, but the CJI himself underlined that the primary reason for the high number of pending cases is the shortage of judges. For instance, according to him, till January 1, 2017, the Allahabad High Court had 11 Lakh pending cases. Notably, the court had only 85 judges as against the sanctioned posts of 160.  Hence, if that’s the situation then any ideas about judges volunteering their time to decide more cases is not easy to understand (especially for a common man). But when the CJI speaks about judges volunteering their time to decide additional cases, that too in front of a PM, it becomes difficult to interpret the true intent of the remark. It’s not that easy to distinguish between a direct remark and a jibe… you see!