Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday singled out the world’s largest backlog of more than three crore pending cases in Indian courts as the biggest challenge confronting the judiciary, and appealed for a war against this “scourge”.
Singh, surprisingly, skipped any reference to the sensitive issues of corruption in higher judiciary and reluctance of judges to declare their assets, both of which have put the judiciary on defensive for its opposition to more transparency in its functioning.
This was for the first time the Prime Minister and top judges came face-to-face on a public forum, two weeks after the government was embarrassed in parliament, when its attempt to push a bill to keep the judges assets secret failed in Rajya Sabha. However, both sides chose to keep silent on the issue.
“India has to suffer the scourge of the world’s largest backlog of cases and timelines which generate surprise globally and concern at home,” Singh said, addressing a conference of chief ministers and chief justices of high courts.
“In this war on arrears, the entire legal system and each rung of it has to function as a seamless web” the PM said.
He assured the judiciary of complete support from the government to overcome this great challenge.
The only contentious issue touched upon by the PM in this delicate government-judiciary relationship, was the appointment of judges.
“Meritorious individuals should be appointed timely to judicial posts, which have been enhanced at the high court level by 150 in the last few years,” Singh said.
He asked the chief justice of high courts to fill up the vacant positions of judges at the earliest. “Existing vacancies in high courts are quite high in number and need to be filled up urgently. I have been told 20 to 25 % posts of judges are vacant in subordinate judiciary. I am told more than 3,000 posts of judges are vacant in the country due to delays in recruitment,” he said.
Chief Justice of India (CJI), K.G. Balakrishnan, speaking before the Prime Minister, also expressed concern at the “chronic shortage” of judges, which was hindering efforts to cut down the huge number of pending cases.
“There has undoubtedly been a chronic shortage of judicial officers, especially at subordinate level and there are also some structural obstacles which discourage talented law graduates from joining judicial services,” the CJI said.