The turf war between the executive and the judiciary over the appointments of judges has had a positive impact this year.
With the government paving the way for 25 more judges by early next week, 2016 will see the highest number of appointments being made in the higher judiciary in one year.
Highly placed sources in the ministry of law and justice told HT that the government has cleared the names of over two dozen judges, to be notified by mid-November. With these, the government would have appointed 121 judges until now this year.
With over a month and a half to go for the next year, the ministry expects to cross the 121 mark. “There are more in the pipeline. This year, we will appoint the highest number of judges,” a senior official said.
November alone has seen 31 judges being appointed till Saturday. The number is expected to go up further.
A minister who did not want to be named was quick to point out that the appointments depict “our intent to keep filling vacancies”. Sources, however, said the government began filling up the vacancies hastily only after a public debate on vacancies was generated.
Nearly 40% positions in the Supreme Court and high courts were vacant till mid-2016.
Data on appointments analysed by HT show that judicial appointments picked up after the stand-off between the judiciary and the executive became more pronounced in mid-August.
Since then, chief justice of India TS Thakur has criticised the government for not doing enough to ease the burden on the judiciary, and dragging its feet on appointments recommended by the Supreme Court collegium. That generated a public debate, bringing the vacancies into sharp focus.
The government appointed 26 judges in September, 19 in October and 31 this month. It appointed 11 additional judges to the Allahabad high court on Saturday. Four more appointments are expected in Rajasthan in the coming days.
The problem of vacancies in the higher judiciary has seen a sharp upward curve in the last four years. On January 1, 2013, the vacancies in the Supreme Court and 24 high courts stood at 282 – rising to 464 on October 1. Department of Justice officials, however, say the increase is also due to 173 more positions of judges being added between July 2014 and May 2016.
On Saturday, this number dropped to 430.