The Supreme Court will have two winter vacation benches for the first time ever—it augurs well for tackling pendency. Court holidays and vacations—courts shut down entirely during the latter with just the vacation benches adjudicating—on top of chronic shortage of judicial staff across levels of the judiciary have meant that over 3 crore cases are pending, bringing to mind that old aphorism “justice delayed is justice denied.” But things are changing. The Supreme Court Rules of 2013 didn’t bring down the 103-days cap on SC holidays and vacations—not including Sundays and other holidays that don’t fall during the vacation period—but it reduced the maximum length of the summer vacation from 10 weeks permitted under 1966 Rules to seven. Vacation benches are themselves a concept that is just a little over a decade old, but the SC has been steadily increasing the number of benches and the frequency of their sittings. Against such a backdrop, winter vacation benches are a welcome incremental reform brought about by the judiciary.
However, a more efficient solution would be do away with the concept of collective vacations—a remnant from the colonial times—and instead institute individual or rotational vacations for judges, like it is there for the police, hospital staff and other essential services. In 2014, the then CJI had written to the high courts, saying, “courts should function all year round, giving individual judges the choice of holidays and vacations… each judge should indicate holidays and vacations he or she wants to avail… registry will then finalise the sittings having to the options given by the respective judges.” FE columnist and PMEAC chairman Bibek Debroy has written about this in these pages, pointing out that how, though this is the standard practice in international jurisdictions like the US, there is great resistance to the idea in India, from both the bar and the bench.