Chief Justice TS Thakur on Saturday lashed out at the Narendra Modi-led government over increasing vacancies at various courts and for not providing adequate infrastructure, charges the Union law minister refuted saying 120 high court judges have been appointed so far.
The CJI said there are 500 judges’ posts lying vacant in high courts and that courtrooms are lying vacant without judges.
“Tribunals are not equipped and are lying empty. Today a situation has come that when no retired Supreme Court judge wants to head the tribunal. I am pained to send my retired colleagues there. The government is not ready to give proper facilities. Vacancy apart from infrastructure is a major concern for the tribunal,” Thakur said.
He added that in principle the judiciary was not against the formation of tribunals because it would relieve court duties, but the problem arose from the lack of adequate infrastructure provided to them.
The Centre and the top court have been at war since the top court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) act, which was brought in to end the more than 20-year-old practice of judges appointing judges under the collegium system, with the government having no say in the process.
Earlier, the Centre had conveyed to the Supreme Court that it had returned to the collegium or its reconsideration of 43 of the 77 names recommended for the appointment of judges in various high courts and that the remaining 34 have been appointed as judges.
On October 28, the apex court had lashed out at the NDA government for failing to appoint judges in various high courts despite the collegium clearing some of the names more than nine months ago.
“You can as well close down the courts. Close down justice,” a livid Thakur told attorney general Mukul Rohtagi.
“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 lockout justice? Executive inaction is decimating the institution,” the CJI had said.
Union law and justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, said the government has so far appointed 120 high court judges, adding that it was the second highest number of appointments in the history of the country’s judicial system.
“We have got the highest regard for the CJI, but we respectfully disagree with him. This year we have made 120 appointments. This is the second highest after 121 were appointed in 2013. Since 1990 there had only been 80 appointments,” Prasad told reporters.
Prasad also said that the Supreme Court has failed to make the memorandum of procedure (MoP), a document to guide appointment of judges to higher judiciary, more transparent and reasonable despite repeated requests from the government.
“But for the larger issue of appointment is concerned, there is a Supreme Court decision of making the MoP more transparent, objective, reasonable, fair and the government’s stand is pending for more than three months and we are yet to hear from the Supreme Court,” he said.
Responding to Justice Thakur’s claim that there is a lack of adequate infrastructure provided to the tribunals, Prasad said, “As far as infrastructure is concerned, it is a continuous process. So many tribunal courts are there. But we need to understand that every retired Supreme Court judge cannot be given the same bungalow of the same size, there is land constraint also.”
The Congress extended its full support to the top jurist saying Thakur did not have any choice but make a noise over the issue since the Centre had turned a deaf ear to his pleas.
Senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that Thakur’s views were not personal since he spoke as the head of an institution, adding that the judiciary was helpless because even though it has vast powers, the actualisation of those powers and directives depends on the executive government.
“Thirty-three percent of the lower judiciary is vacant. Forty percent of the high court judiciary is vacant. This is vacancy within the 13 judges per million of population ration that we have, which is, by the way, one of the lowest in the world. It should be 50 judges per million,” Singhvi said.
“What is the Chief Justice to do except speak, shout, lament? But the government seems to have deaf ears,” he added.
In April, Thakur had made an emotional plea to the government to help upgrade judicial infrastructure and start addressing the glaring problem of shortage of judges during a joint conference of chief ministers and chief justices of high courts.