Delhi high court functioning at half its strength with just 36 judges
The Delhi HC has been functioning with an acting chief justice for over a year now. As of May 26, there were 71,704 cases pending in the courtUpdated: May 27, 2018, 07:04 IST
The Delhi high court is staring at an unprecedented crisis — an acute shortage of judges who number just a little above half its sanctioned strength. The high court, which has a sanctioned strength of 60 judges, is making do with just 36. And by August-end, with three more judges set to retire, the number will drop to 33.
A stalemate between the government and the judiciary over the memorandum of procedure -- a set of guidelines for appointments to the higher judiciary -- is at least partly responsible for the situation.
As of May 26, there were 71,704 cases pending in the court.
Justice Indermeet Kaur retired on March 21, the first Delhi high court judge to do so his year. She was followed by justice Deepa Sharma, who retired on May 25. The next in the queue of retiring judges is justice SP Garg, who will be retiring in the coming week.
Garg’s retirement will be followed by that of justice Pratibha Rani and justice P S Teji who, according to the website of the department of justice, will be retiring on August 24 and August 13 respectively.
The Delhi HC has been functioning with an acting chief justice for over a year now. Justice Gita Mittal, who was recently awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar, a national honour conferred on women, has been the acting chief justice since April 12, 2017, when justice G Rohini retired.
It has been over four months since the Supreme Court collegium, a panel of the five top judges in the top court, recommended the name of Calcutta high court judge, Justice Aniruddh Bose, to the central government for appointment as chief justice of the Delhi HC.
“Office of the chief justice of the Delhi high court has been lying vacant since long. Therefore, appointment to that office is required to be made. Justice Aniruddha Bose, Judge of Calcutta High Court is suitable in all respects for being appointed as Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court,” the collegium said in its recommendation to the government dated January 10.
The appointment hasn’t come through nor has the government returned the file of justice Bose to the collegium.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde said other high courts too were confronting a similar situation, citing the Calcutta and Bangalore HCs where too retired judges haven’t been replaced.
“The logjam between the collegiums and the government has continued to persist and now even the Delhi HC seems to be falling prey,” he said.
“Administration of justice is suffering due to this logjam. Existing judges are overburdened. Matters are often reduced to grant only interim orders and final hearing of the matters often does not take place,” Hegde said.
Lack of agreement between the Centre and top judges has delayed the memorandum of procedure, proposed more than two years ago.
Senior advocate Kirti Uppal, who is also president of the Delhi High Court Bar Association, said, “On one hand, the government blames the judiciary for the large pendency of cases and on the other hand, the names are stuck at their own whims and fancies. The ultimate loss is of the nation and the litigants.”
The last appointments to the Delhi HC -- of justice Rekha Palli, justice C Hari Shankar, justice Navin Chawla and justice Pratibha M Singh -- were made in May last yer. This year, justice Rajiv Shakdher has been brought back from Madras High Court to the parent HC.
Rahul Mehra, senior standing counsel for the Delhi government in the HC, said the Centre should clear the names as soon as possible so that litigants do not suffer.
“I think that the Central government must take a call immediately and finalise the names of the judges. It is the capital city and the Delhi high court is the flagship for all the high courts in the country. So the efficiency must continue. I think that the government must finalise the names that they want to elevate as judges because, according to my knowledge, the process is at a standstill,” Mehra said.