In what now appears to be a full blown judiciary-executive showdown, top officials in the Union law ministry have pointed out to the backlog in filling vacancies of district judges and in the subordinate judiciary – underlining that this is an area over which the Centre has no control but the higher judiciary, including the Supreme Court, does.
Top law ministry sources told Hindustan Times that nearly a quarter of the positions in lower courts are vacant and the backlog of cases is most in such courts.
“Of nearly 3 crore cases that are pending, more than 2 crore are in the lower courts,” a source said.
The SC had pulled up the Centre on Friday for vacancies in the 24 high courts and the SC which currently runs at nearly 40% of the sanctioned strength.
“Today, we have a situation where courtrooms are locked because there are no judges. For example, Karnataka where one floor is shut. Why don’t you lock the courts and lock out justice?” Chief Justice of India TS Thakur said.
“Executive inaction is decimating the institution (judiciary).”
While the SC pointed out that the HCs and the top court have 464 vacancies against a total approved strength of 1,079, ministry sources said the vacancies in subordinate courts have been climbing up too.
Statistics compiled by the ministry show that 5,000 of the approximately 21,000 sanctioned posts of judicial officers in the lower courts are lying vacant. Filling up these posts is the responsibility of either the high courts across the country or the state level public service commissions, ministry sources said.
“The poor man and villager go to the munsif court or district court. The high courts and Supreme Court (SC) get only limited cases. The real pendency is in the lower courts,” minister of state for law and justice PP Chaudhary said.
“I don’t want to comment on what the HCs should do but the SC is empowered to give directions to them on both the administrative and judicial side,” he said, adding that the SC “should give some direction to the HCs to fill up these vacancies”.
In the 10 year period from 2005 to 2015, the sanctioned strength went up from a little over 14,000 to more than 20,000 judicial officers, ministry sources said. But the number of vacancies went up from 2,730 to 4,432, they add.
The Centre and the top court are at loggerheads since the SC struck down the national judicial appointments commission (NJAC) act . The law was brought in to end more than 20-year-old practice, unique to India, of judges appointing judges under the collegium system, with the government having no say in the process.
The court had asked the government to frame the memorandum of procedure, a set of guidelines on appointment of judges to the apex court and high courts in the country, to be finalised in consultation with the CJI and the collegium but the two sides have failed to agree on it.