At a time when there is no system to appoint or elevate judges to the higher judiciary, as many as 384 posts in most of the 24 high courts in the country are waiting to be filled up.
The latest data compiled by the law ministry on August 1 suggests the high courts were facing a shortage of 384 judges as against the approved strength of 1017. Thus, the 24 high courts are functioning with a working strength of 633 judges.
As on May 1, the high courts were short of 366 judges and were functioning with a working strength of 651.
While the collegium system, where judges recommended names of other judges for appointment and elevation, has been done away with by the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, the new body is yet to take shape.
The new law which scrapped the collegium system came into force on April 13 this year.
The Supreme Court has reserved its judgement on a clutch of petitions challenging the validity of NJAC. The Chief Justice of India has refused to take part in a meeting with the Prime Minister in the selection committee of the panel under the new law, thus leaving the new system in a limbo.
Therefore, no judge can be elevated as chief justice of a high court, transferred to another high court or elevated to the Supreme Court as there is no system in place for the purpose.
According to the data, the high courts of Gauhati, Gujarat, Karnataka, Patna and Punjab and Haryana are at present headed by acting chief justices.
According to Law Ministry sources, Article 223 of the Constitution states that when the office of the Chief Justice of a high court is vacant or when any such Chief Justice is, by reason of absence or otherwise, unable to perform the duties of his office, the duties shall be performed by such one of the other judges of the court as the President may appoint for the purpose.
Government had used this provision recently to appoint acting chief justices in some high courts.
To overcome shortage of judges, government had also recently sought permission of the apex court to give extension to additional judges in various high courts whose tenure of two years was coming to an end.
Till a new system is in place, the additional judges cannot be elevated as permanent judges in high courts.
According to Law Ministry data, the Allahabad High Court has maximum number of vacancies with 84 slots laying vacant.
The Allahabad High Court, which has a principal bench in Allahabad and another bench in Lucknow, has an approved strength of 160 judges but has been functioning with a working strength of 76.
Similarly, the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh has an approved strength of 85 judges but is functioning with 54 judges, thereby facing a shortage of 31.
The high courts of Meghalaya, Sikkim and Tripura face no shortage, as per the data.