The Supreme Court on Monday said there should not be any demand from the judiciary to create more positions for judges in the country till all existing vacancies are filled up. Heading a three-judge bench, Chief Justice of India J S Khehar observed that there was an increase in the number of judges in the 24 high courts by 25 per cent in 2014 but half the seats in high courts were still vacant.
“We should fill up the existing vacancies first…what is the point of asking for more (judges) when we cannot fill up the existing vacancies,” said the bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Sanjay K Kaul. The bench’s remarks assume significance in the backdrop of repeated criticism by the Union Law Ministry over the demand to create more posts when more than 200 vacancies in high courts and around 4,900 vacancies in the subordinate courts were yet to be filled up.
The court was unequivocal that its priority was to first fill up the existing vacancies in high courts before making any fresh demand for raising the number of judges to tackle backlog of cases. “The strength of the judges in high courts is almost half…We will look at other things after we have filled up the existing vacancies,” said the bench, as it heard a clutch of PILs relating to judicial appointments.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, who appeared for one of the petitioners, Ashwini Upadhyay, rued that the budgetary allocation for the judiciary was as low as 0.2 per cent of the total annual budget. “Most of these problems would be sorted out if there is a proper budgetary allocation,” said Singh. The bench retorted, “You have to have faith in us when we tell you that filling up of vacancies is on a war footing. The Memorandum of Procedure (MoP, which will guide all future appointments) is also clear.”
It pointed out that a committee of senior judges in the Supreme Court has been recently constituted to examine the issues pertaining to judicial appointments and for streamlining and expediting the system.