At a time when the collegium system of appointment of Judges is under attack, the Supreme Court — with over 50,000 cases pending before it — will soon be working at less than 75 per cent of its total sanctioned strength of Judges. By October 15, seven Judges of the apex court will retire, the largest number of retirements in a single year since Independence.
And that’s just the position in the country’s highest court. The biggest court in India, Allahabad High Court, has been functioning with just 62 of its total 160 approved strength of Judges, as reported by The Indian Express (nine more will join tomorrow). The Gujarat HC, with a sanctioned strength of 42, has 18 vacancies; while Punjab and Haryana HC has just 43 Judges, against a sanctioned strength of 68.
In all, data compiled by the government shows, of the total 895 posts of Judges sanctioned in the 21 HCs in the country, only 610 are currently filled — a gap of 285. This year, in fact, saw the highest number of posts falling vacant in HCs in a calendar year since 1990. However, only 41 new appointments have been made so far in 2011.
The subordinate judiciary is not much better placed. Data collected by the Supreme Court says that as of December 31, 2010, out of the sanctioned strength of 17,151 posts in states and Union Territories, 3,170 were vacant, with Bihar (389 vacancies), Gujarat (361), Uttar Pradesh (294) and Maharashtra (234) leading the list.
Even though the Supreme Court collegium headed by Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia has recommended three names — two HC Chief Justices and one Judge of Bombay HC — even if they are able to take oath by October 15, the number of vacancies in the apex court will still be six out of 31.
“Even though at every meeting of chief ministers and Chief Justices, the judiciary is requested to recommended names for elevation to the Bench at least three months before an anticipated vacancy, it is never done. Today, except for the Himachal Pradesh High Court, there is no court that is working at full strength. Though the sanctioned strength of the Jammu and Kashmir HC is 14, the court is functioning with just seven judges. In most cases, the HC collegium has not met even once in the last one year to recommend names,” said a senior government functionary. Sikkim, the country’s smallest court with a sanctioned strength of three judges, has just one judge, who was designated Acting Chief Justice after the resignation of Justice P D Dinakaran last month.
The other HCs with a significant number of vacancies are Andhra Pradesh (16), Bombay (14), Calcutta (14), Rajasthan (13) and Chhattisgarh (12). The highest number of appointments made in a single year was 110 in 2006 when Justice Y K Sabharwal was the CJI and H R Bhardwaj the Union law minister.
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