The tussle between the central government the judiciary over the appointments of judges has so far yielded positive results. Prime Minister Narendra Modi government has decided to appoint 25 judges. With this move, 2016 will see the highest number of appointments being made in the higher judiciary in one year. Reports said that the government has cleared the names of over two dozen judges which will be notified by mid-November. Notably, Chief justice of India TS Thakur has criticised the government for not doing enough to ease the burden on the judiciary, and dragging its feet on appointments recommended by the Supreme Court collegium. That generated a public debate, bringing the vacancies into sharp focus.
The Centre has already appointed 26 judges in September, 19 in October and 31 this month. It appointed 11 additional judges to the Allahabad high court on Saturday. Four more appointments are expected in Rajasthan in the coming days. The problem of vacancies in the higher judiciary has seen a sharp upward curve in the last four years. On January 1, 2013, the vacancies in the Supreme Court and 24 high courts stood at 282 – rising to 464 on October 1, a report said. Department of Justice officials, however, say the increase is also due to 173 more positions of judges being added between July 2014 and May 2016. On Saturday, this number dropped to 430, the report said.
Observing that justice delivery system is “collapsing”, the Supreme Court had on August 12 sent out a stern message to the Centre over non-execution of collegium’s decision to transfer and appoint Chief Justices and judges in High Courts, saying it will not tolerate the “logjam” and would intervene to make it accountable.
Asking Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi to seek instructions from the Centre, a bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur, who also heads the five-member apex court collegium, said, “We won’t tolerate logjam in judges’ appointment which is stifling its judicial work. We will fasten accountability.” The bench had said that it may intervene on “judicial” side as the eight-month old decision of the collegium on transfer and appointment of the HC judges has not been given effect to.
The bench also referred to the data with regard to vacancies in various high courts including Kerala, Uttarakhand and Karnataka and said, “The vacancy in high courts has risen to 43 per cent and there are four million cases pending in the high courts. The whole system is collapsing”.