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Amid stand-off over judicial appointments, pendency witnesses phenomenal rise : The Tribune India

Tribune News Service

Satya Prakash

New Delhi, December 4

As the Government and the Judiciary indulged in a slugfest over appointments to the higher judiciary, seven posts of judges in the Supreme Court and 336 in various high courts remained vacant even as pending of cases witnessed a phenomenal increase.

As on December 4, 2022, seven out of the total 34 posts of judges were vacant in the Supreme Court where 69,598 cases awaited adjudication. While the Government was sitting over the Collegium’s recommendation to elevate Bombay High Court chief Justice Dipankar Datta as a judge of the Supreme Court, there were no recommendations made for the rest of the six vacancies in the top court.

Similarly, judicial vacancies in 25 high courts (as on October 1, 2022) were reported to be 336 against the sanctioned strength of 1108 judges. While the Government returned the names of 20 candidates recommended for appointment to various high courts last month, the Collegium has not been able to send names for most of the current vacancies and all those likely to arise in the next few months.

According to data (last updated on July 4, 2022) displayed on National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), 46,13,383 cases (3317197 civil and 1296186 criminal) were pending in 25 high courts. NJDG data showed that 34,53,972 cases (74.87%) pending in high courts were more than one-year-old while 1,38,094 cases were 20 to 30 year-old and 51,925 cases more than 30-year-old.

Expressing anguish over the Center not clearing the Collegium’s recommendations for judicial appointments, the Supreme Court had last month requested Attorney General R Venkataramani to ensure the government followed the law and expedited the process to fill judicial vacancies.

Earlier, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju had said, “Never say that the Government is sitting on files. Don’t send files to the Government then… you (Collegium) appoint yourself, you run the show.”

Taking exception to the Law Minister’s statement, a bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul had said, “Names are not being cleared. How can the system work?… It appears that the government is unhappy that the NJAC (National Judicial Appointments Commission Act) did not pass constitutional muster… Can that be the reason not to clear the names for so long.”

Last week, Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar raised questions about undoing of the NJAC Act and the 99th constitutional amendment and wondered if a constitutional amendment unanimously passed by Parliament reflecting the will of the people can be undone by the Supreme Court. Noting that Article 145(3 ) said interpretation of the Constitution could be done when a substantial question of law was involved, he said nowhere, it suggested a provision can be run down.

Supreme Court Bar Association President and senior advocate Vikas Singh, who has been very vocal on the issue of judicial appointments, said the issue needed to be considered fresh. “If the Collegium system has to survive, it has to reinvest itself. Otherwise, the Government should immediately bring in a law to regulate the Collegium system by statutorily introducing transparency in its functioning because they can’t bring back the NJAC (National Judicial Appointments Commission) which has already been struck down by the Supreme Court,” Singh told The Tribune.

As the stand-off continues, all eyes are on the Supreme Court which would take up December 8 a petition filed by the Advocates’ Association Bengaluru alleging “willful disobedience” of the time frame laid down to facilitate timely appointment of judges.

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