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Chief Justice breaks down before PM over burden on judiciary

An emotional CJI TS Thakur lamented on Sunday “inaction” by the executive to increase the number of judges from the present 21,000 to 40,000 to handle the “avalanche” of litigations.

india Updated: Apr 24, 2016 20:50 IST
Satya Prakash
Satya Prakash
Hindustan Times
CJI TS Thakur,Shortage of judges,Prime Minister Narendra Modi
CJI TS Thakur breaks down while speaking at the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts.(ANI)

An emotional Chief Justice of India (CJI) on Sunday blasted successive governments for not raising the number of judges to an extent reasonable enough for dealing with over three crore pending cases.

“Not only in the name of litigants and people languishing in jails but also in the name of the development of the country and its progress, I beseech you to rise to the occasion and realise that it is not sufficient to criticise,” CJI TS Thakur said in a voice choking with emotion.

Justice Thakur was addressing the annual Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Ministers in the presence of Prime Minster Narendra Modi, law minister DV Sadananda Gowda and a large number of judges.

“You can’t shift the entire blame onto judges. If you compare the performance of Indian judges with those in other countries, we are head and shoulders above them. The entire US Supreme Court – nine judges sitting together – decides 81 cases in a year. But an Indian judge – a munsif or a Supreme Court judge – decides 2,600 cases a year,” Justice Thakur said.

Pointing out that the Indian judiciary clears two crore cases every year, he said: “When judges from abroad come here and watch us at work, they are amazed… They wonder how judges can work under such stressful conditions.”

Though Modi was not slated to speak as per the programme schedule circulated by the law ministry, he told the CJI that he was ready to set up a joint panel of representatives drawn from the judiciary and the executive to deal with the problem. “I can understand your agony. If something was promised in 1987 and nothing has happened till 2016, it is understandable,” he said.

Justice Thakur said that when the Supreme Court began functioning in 1950, it had eight judges to handle 1,215 cases. But today, it has to handle over 60,000 cases with just 31 judges.

While 38.68 lakh cases lie pending in 24 high courts, nearly three crore cases await disposal in trial courts across the country.

The CJI requested the government to clear the proposals for judicial appointments in high courts – where 434 posts against the sanctioned strength of 1,056 still remain vacant – on a war footing.

Read | SC unlikely to get new judges for now, pending cases set to rise

Justice Thakur said the Law Commission had highlighted the poor judge-population ratio in its 120th report in 1987, and recommended that it be increased from 10.5 to 50 judges per one million people. Nothing has been done about it yet, he added.

He said that while the judiciary required as many as 40,000 judges in 1987, its current strength is just 21,000.

The CJI said that after the Law Commission report, a parliamentary standing committee and a Supreme Court order unsuccessfully pressed for increasing the judicial strength in 2002 and 2003 respectively. Then CJI Altmas Kabir even wrote to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the subject in February 2013, but the latter sought to shift the blame onto the states – saying it was for them to take the initiative. “The Centre says it’s for the states to increase the judges’ strength, and states say it is for the Centre to provide funds. While this tug of war goes on, the judges’ strength remains where it is,” Justice Thakur lamented.

Putting things into perspective, he cited the examples of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia – which have maintained a judge-population ratio of 107, 75, 50 and 41 judges per million people respectively from the 1970s and 1980s.

Terming the deadlines set for disposing cases that have been pending for five years or more as “unrealistic”, the CJI said they cannot be achieved unless the existing vacancies in the judiciary were filled and the judge-population ratio was raised to 50 judges per million people.

Justice Thakur ended his largely extempore speech by saying: “If nothing else has worked so far, an emotional appeal may work.”

Read | NDA memorandum: Judiciary-govt face-off brewing over appointments

First Published: Apr 24, 2016 13:14 IST