Just about a month after Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to consider increasing the strength of judges in the Supreme Court, the Union Cabinet Wednesday decided to bring a Bill to increase the strength by 10 per cent from 30 to 33 judges apart from the Chief Justice.
Announcing the decision, Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting, and Environment, Forest & Climate Change Prakash Javadekar said that “there has always been a complaint that so many cases are pending in the Supreme Court and it needs more judges”.
Move to tackle pending cases
The decision is in line with the government’s aim to tackle pending cases. This year’s Economic Survey had red-flagged the pile of pending cases and laid down solutions, including raising the age of judges in the higher judiciary.
The last time the strength was increased was a decade ago in 2009 when the number of judges in the top court was increased to 31 (including the Chief Justice) from 26.
In June, Gogoi, in his letter to Modi, had said more judges were needed in the Supreme Court for it to run more efficiently and effectively. He had mentioned there are 58,669 cases pending in the apex court. As of July 1, that number is up to 59,695.
“Due to paucity of judges, the required number of Constitution benches to decide important cases involving questions of law were not being formed,” the Chief Justice had written. And added that in 1988 the judge strength was increased from 18 to 26 in the Supreme Court, to 31 after two decades “to expedite disposal of cases to keep pace with the rate of institution”.
“I request you to kindly consider, on top priority, to augment the judge-strength in the SC…”, he had said, “as it will go a long way to attain ultimate goal of rendering timely justice to the litigant public.”
Gogoi had said he was unable to set-up five-judge Constitution benches for substantial questions of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution because of inadequate judge strength.
As of July 1, the total number of cases pending before Constitution benches are 557, with 407 before five-judge bench, 13 before a seven-judge bench, and 137 matters before the nine-judge constitutional bench.
Javadekar said the NDA government had also increased the number of judges in High Courts across the country in 2016. He said that the judge strength in high courts was increased by 173 judges, from 906 to 1079 in 2016.
After three judges were appointed to the Supreme Court in May, the court is functioning at its full strength of 31 judges — the first time since 2008.