Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has banned all judicial officials, from high court judges to judicial officers in subordinate courts, from taking leave on working days—unless, of course, there is an emergency. As per a Times of India report, immediately after taking office last week, Gogoi held video conferences with the collegium members of each HC—the chief justice and two most senior judges—and arrived at the leave ‘order’. The CJI, who is known to be keen on reducing pendency of cases, reportedly believes the step will help. As per the National Judicial Data Grid, over 2.7 crore cases are pending in courts across the country. Justice Gogoi also prescribes stringent punishment for errant judges violating the new leave policy—he has instructed the high court chief justices to take away all judicial work from them. He has also barred judges from taking LTC during working days, thus forcing judges to plan their holidays in advance, alongside mandating them to coordinate their leaves with their fellow judges and officers. Judges are also not allowed anymore to attend seminars and functions on working days even if they have no judicial work, in a bid to free up time for them to study case documents more keenly, a practice that Gogoi is well known for.
Improving judicial efficiency, no doubt, is an admirable goal. As per the National Judicial Data Grid, over 8% of cases have been pending for over 10 years and over 16% have been pending for over five, meaning that a quarter of the ~2.7 crore cases have been pending for more than five years. These cases should have been disposed of long back, and the new CJI is right in attempting to discipline and streamline the current judges’ prosecuting. However, when there is a 20% and 40% vacancy of judges at the Supreme Court and the High Courts, respectively, banning working-day leaves will do little to clear the backlog. Also, this would require the leave policy to be revisited since there can’t be such a wide difference between the leave policies for the executive and the judiciary. Gogoi’s leave prescription is only a stopgap measure while filling up the existing vacancies at all levels of the judiciary is a more sustainable approach to reducing pendency of cases.