Delhi leads states in filling lower court staff vacancies
Some states, including Delhi and Tamil Nadu, have managed to narrow the gap between sanctioned strength and working strength in lower courts, although, in general, most state governments and their respective High Courts continue to drag their feet over filling up vacancies in the lower (or subordinate) judiciary, with almost one in every four posts remaining vacant in courts that account for around 17 of every 20 pending cases in the country.
According to data available on the national judicial data grid (NAJDG), collated by the union law ministry’s department of justice (DOJ), Delhi has progressed considerably in the last two years, bringing down vacancies in the trial courts from 316 (in 2017) to 119. The sanctioned strength in Delhi is 799.
Tamil Nadu has reduced the vacancies from 341 in 2017 to 129; the state’s sanctioned strength is 1216. Punjab, which has a sanctioned strength of 695 has also shown improvement, reducing the vacancies from 136 in 2017 to only 93 now. Odisha has done well too, bringing down the vacancies from 2017 to 60 (of 917 posts). Madhya Pradesh has filled 211 posts over the past two years but still has 517 positions vacant.
“Some other states have improved the working strength of judges in lower judiciary too, but in terms of percentage , it is not significant. DOJ is in regular touch with the states and following up with them on the status of building up infrastructure in courts,” said a senior law ministry officer who asked not to be named.
The increase in working strength of lower court judges is also due to the Supreme Court monitoring the same, another officer said, also on condition of anonymity. In November last year, a bench headed by then Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi took up the matter on its own and summoned chief secretaries of all states and registrar generals of High Courts to know the status of vacancies. In almost a year, before CJI Gogoi retired on November 17, ministry officials say a little over 1000 appointments were made through court orders.
Some states have also increased the sanctioned strength for trial courts. In 2017, the overall strength was 22623; this has gone up to 23584, with the creation of 961 new posts. Despite all efforts, though, the country’s lower judiciary still faces a shortfall of 5458 judges. Being the lowest rung in the judicial hierarchy, subordinate courts account for over 86% of over 30 million cases awaiting final disposal across all courts, including the Supreme Court. Seven states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Maharashtra – together account for 59% of vacancies in the district judiciary.
A senior Supreme Court advocate who assisted CJI Gogoi’s bench in the matter of the vacancies, said bureaucratic delay coupled with lack of merit are the main causes for the shortage of judges in trial courts. The counsel, who did not wish to be named, said: “When the matter was first taken up and I was asked to look into the status of vacancies in seven states, I learnt after interacting with the officials that not many people qualified the entrance tests conducted by states. Vacancies had to be re-advertised and the exam paper was made easier.”