Given how the judiciary is always held responsible for the huge delays in courts, it is not surprising that Chief Justice of India (CJI) TS Thakur should have got as emotional as he did at the joint conference of chief ministers and chief justices of high courts in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and law minister DV Sadananda Gowda. As he pointed out, while the Law Commission had, way back in 1987, recommended that India have 50 judges per million people, we have a mere 15 today—that’s a shortage of nearly 45,000 judges or two-and-a-half times the number of judges India has at the moment. The current government, however, is not solely to blame for this since the 170 recommendations for fresh appointments that the CJI said were stuck at its level don’t even scratch the surface, vital as it is that they be cleared at the earliest. There is also the issue of the role of the executive in appointments that needs to be discussed since, after the Second and Third Judges cases in the 1990s, this role has been reduced dramatically—sadly, the Supreme Court struck down the National Judicial Appointment Commission which sought to redress the imbalance which had shifted entirely in favour of the judiciary.
The larger point, of course, is that India has a distorted government structure—too many clerical staff and too few judges, policemen, doctors, teachers, taxmen, etc. Against a sanctioned strength of 181.5 policemen per lakh people, for instance, the actual figure was 136.4—according to a statement in the Rajya Sabha—in 2014 and this does not take into account the ideal strength. Similarly, there were just seven doctors for every 10,000 people in 2014, which is half the average in the developed world. As far as schools are concerned, 6,400 out of the 7.6 lakh primary schools do not have a single teacher, according to the human resource ministry’s District Information System for Education. And schools need to hire 1.2 million teachers. While a closed door meeting between the CJI and the government—which is what the prime minister suggested to the CJI at the conference—will possibly help get these 170 names cleared, what is required is a deeper look at the structure of the government. This means the size of the government has to be expanded dramatically when it comes to the technical side that comprises policemen, doctors, teachers, and so on—and the money for their salaries and the support infrastructure like clinics, hospitals, schools and courts has to come from pruning the clerical staff and that on wasteful subsidies. It is only when this is done that India can truly move towards becoming a developed country. Unless it has enough policemen, crime will always be an issue; without enough judges, delays in courts will remain endemic; without enough teachers, teaching outcomes will remain poor; without enough taxmen, tax collections will fall short … There are, of course, technical solutions offered through greater computerisation of courts or greater use of online learning and so on, but there is a certain minimum size that is required and India is far short of that.