New Delhi: Chief Justice of India TS Thakur was disappointed on Monday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi failed to mention stalled judicial appointments in his Independence Day speech, a crisis the nation’s top judge believes is crippling the courts.
Thakur urged the government at the Supreme Court Bar Association’s August 15 event to pay attention to the judiciary, especially appointment of judges.
“I was hoping he will speak about issues plaguing the justice delivery system. However, he did not,” said the CJI, who has threatened to pass orders if the Centre didn’t clear the logjam.
Later in the evening, the chief justice met the Prime Minister at the President’s Independence Day “at home” function. They chatted for 20 minutes at Rashtrapati Bhavan, sharing their thoughts with hearty laughter.
Thakur’s remarks after Modi’s Red Fort address to the nation followed law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad assurance that the government was committed to the cause of judicial independence.
“Our government is led by senior ministers who fought against the Emergency. Our government feels that effective judicial delivery is integral to good governance and appointment is part of it,” Prasad said.
He promised to quicken the process and hoped the top court’s collegium will work as a team.
But Thakur appeared unimpressed, saying if the government remained stubborn, so would the judiciary.
“During the British era, a verdict in a case used to come out in 10 years. However, today, even 100 years are not enough due to a lack of judges,” the CJI said.
“People’s aspirations are increasing and a large number of cases is being filed. But, there are no judges.”
Thakur lashed out at the government on Friday for allegedly stalling the appointment of high court judges.
“If this logjam goes on, we’ll be forced to judicially interfere with the government. We will ask for every file sent to you by the collegiums. You have logjammed the entire process,” he told attorney general Mukul Rohatgi.
The chief justice recited lines from Urdu poet Allama Iqbal to stress his point: “Gul fenke auron par, samar bhi, E abr-e-karam, e-behr-e-sakha, kuch to idhar bhi (You gave fruits and flowers to others but O cloud of beneficence, wave of friendship, do bestow something on us too)”.
“I have reached the peak of my career and from here I have nowhere to go. So I will not hesitate to say anything,” he said.
India’s 24 high courts have nearly four million cases pending before them while another 30 million cases clog trial courts. But clearing this backlog is considered virtually impossible with the current strength of judges – in the high courts, 478 posts out a sanctioned strength of 1,056 remain vacant.
Even in the top court that was originally set up in 1951 to oversee 1,215 cases by eight judges, now 31 judges have to decide on a staggering 60,000 cases annually. The CJI has said in the past that the country needed to double the number of judges from its current strength of 21,000.