Days after Chief Justice of India R M Lodha disapproved of the NDA government’s move to “unilaterally segregate” former Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium from appointment as a Supreme Court judge, the judiciary and the government have come together to push a major reform to tackle the huge pendency.
Lodha recently gave his nod to the Law Ministry’s proposal to increase the sanctioned strength of High Court judges by 25 per cent. This would mean the appointment of about 200 more HC judges across the country, with the aim of reducing the backlog of about 40 lakh cases.
While the proposal was first moved over a year back, no serious efforts were made to implement it. After taking charge as Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote to the CJI seeking his approval.
Responding as soon as the court reopened after the summer vacation, Lodha gave his nod and left it to the ministry to issue the necessary notifications. The CJI has also written to all the High Courts seeking prompt replies on their infrastructural requirements and vacancies.
Speaking to The Indian Express, the CJI said, “Yes, I have given my go-ahead to the government. The pendency is a major problem with the institution. The proposal looks at increasing the strength by 20-25 per cent. The reform will take place in a phased manner.” He said “it is now for them (government) to go ahead.”
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While the Centre is yet to issue any notifications, Prasad said some High Courts — Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir — have provided the necessary inputs.
“We needed the judiciary’s approval as the government has to go through a consultative process with the CJI and Chief Justices of the High Courts. Our government is committed to increasing the strength of judges, not only in High Courts but also in subordinate judiciary,” said Prasad.
Raising the issue during a hearing last week, CJI Lodha said. “We are not justifying the delay (in deciding cases) but we can’t close our eyes to the reality that with a population of more than 1.27 billion, there are 19,006 judges… system is not being allowed to grow and work.”
At a joint conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts in April last year, then Law Minister Ashwani Kumar had said that then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had agreed, in principle, to increase the sanctioned strength of HC judges by 25 per cent.
Subsequently, Lodha’s predecessor, Justice P Sathasivam, had also written to Singh, emphasising the need to increase the strength of judges, “lest there should be parallel courts throughout the country”. Former Law Minister Kapil Sibal had then asked the Chief Justices of High Courts to send recommendations for filling the vacancies.