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Chief Justice’s Emotional Appeal to Modi – The Prime Minister Modi said judges and the government should sit together and work for a more efficient tomorrow.
Breaking down several times in his half-hour speech addressed directly at Prime Minister Narendra Modi present on the dais at the Annual Chief Ministers and Chief Justices Conference on Sunday, Chief Justice of India, Tirath Singh Thakur, launched a scathing attack on government inaction, squarely blaming the Centre for stalling appointment of judges to the High Courts. He also blamed the Centre of doing nothing to increase the number of courts and judges in the country, thus denying the poor man and under trial prisoners their due of justice.
The Chief Justice asked what the point of ‘Make in India’ was and inviting foreign direct investments when investors are increasingly doubtful about the timely delivery of justice.
“Therefore not only in the name of the litigant… the poor litigant (he pauses as his voice trembles with emotion) languishing in jail but also in the name of the country and progress, I beseech you to realise that it is not enough to criticise the judiciary… you cannot shift the entire burden to the judiciary,” Chief Justice Thakur said in an unprecedented criticism of the government.
“I feel that if nothing else has helped justice, an emotional appeal might,” Chief Justice Thakur told an audience of his fellow Supreme Court judges, High Court Chief Justices, former Chief Justices of India, senior Union Law and Justice Ministry officials, dignitaries and the media at Vigyan Bhawan as the Prime Minister and Union Law Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda watched on.
He said there are 434 judicial vacancies in the High Courts waiting to be filled up as of date.
“This is thanks to the long time the NJAC case took to be decided,” Chief Justice Thakur said, referring to the year-long litigation in the Supreme Court over the government’s attempt to replace the Supreme Court Collegium with the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC). Judges’ appointments to the High Courts and the Supreme Court had remained frozen as the court battle had raged on.
“Once the litigation was over, a concerned collegium cleared pending proposals for judicial appointments in six weeks. We had already appointed 54 High Court judges whose cases were pending with us before the NJAC case. Fifty per cent of the proposals were turned down by us as we did not want the slightest blemish on the name of the judiciary. But 169 proposals are still pending with the government till now… ” Chief Justice Thakur said.
“Now how long will you take to process these proposals? … How long? When jails are overflowing… In Allahabad High Court, 10 lakh cases are pending.”
Chief Justice Thakur, in his scathing criticism of the government’s inaction, said the Centre chose not to lift a finger to help reduce the “impossible burden” judges carry and aid the cause of justice delivery despite a Law Commission report in 1987 warning that the country is slipping into a crisis where the ratio of the number of judges to the population is grossly inadequate.
He said that at least five crore cases are filed every year and judges dispose of only two crore.
“Nobody talks about our disposal rates… there is a limit to what a judge can do, to his or her performance capacity. In the United Supreme Court, nine judges sit together as a Bench and decide only 81 cases in a year. Judges come from abroad and are amazed by what an Indian judge does in a year in a stress-filled atmosphere… Yet we struggle on as the people have faith because we are doing our best,” Chief Justice Thakur said.
He referred to how the Law Commission in 1987 had recommended 40,000 judges in the country to tide over the problem of pendency of that time. Its report had said that there were only 10 judges to a million population when there should be at least 50 judges per 10 lakh population.
Noting that population has increased by over 25 crore since 1987, Chief Justice Thakur said the only solution to this “extraordinary situation” was to bring back proven judges from retirement in a bid to dispose of cases which are more than five years old.
“Hon’ble PM the commercial courts project is one of your prime agendas but what’s happening? These commercial courts are being designated out of the existing courts. Will that serve the purpose when the concept was to provide a different environment for commercial disputes?” the CJI said.
“Speeches have been made in the past, debates have been held in the Parliament, but I think nothing is moving,” Chief Justice Thakur said.
In 1950, the Supreme Court had eight judges and a pendency of 100-plus cases. A decade later, in 1960, judges’ strength in the Supreme Court grew to 14 while pendency rose to 3247. In 1977, the number of apex court judges increased to 18 and pendency reached 14501. In 1986, there were 26 judges in the Supreme Court while pendency increased to 27,881. In 2009, the number of judges in the Supreme Court reached the present strength of 31 as pendency had grown to 77,151. Five years later in 2014, the number of judges remained 31 but pendency had burgeoned to 81,583.
“If litigation has grown phenomenally like this at the apex level, you can just appreciate what is happening at the trial courts, first appellate and second appellate stages,” Chief Justice Thakur said.
He said the pendency in the Supreme Court as of date is 60,260 cases.
Chief Justice Thakur said the situation in the High Courts is far more complicated with 38.68 lakh cases pending as in April 2016 and the number of judicial vacancies frozen at 434. He said 54 High Court judges, whose files were stuck due to the NJAC litigation, have been appointed in just six weeks after a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice J.S. Khehar restored the Collegium system of appointments. But the files for fresh appointments of 169 High Court judges are yet to be processed by the government.
“Fifty percent of the proposals for judicial appointments are turned if we detect even the slightest blemish. We do not want any criticism coming to us. But still the vacancies are not filled up,” Chief Justice Thakur said.
In 1987, the Law Commission of India in its report recommended that there should be 40,000 judges in the country to tide over the problem of pendency. “This (Law Commission) was no private body, but the government’s body. But there was no action,” Chief Justice Thakur said.
In 2002, 15 years later, when Supreme Court took up the issue in the All India Judges Association case, it pointed to how the Law Commission’s report said there were only 10 judges in india for every million of its population. In fact, the ration should have been 50 judges for every 10 lakh people.
“The Court said time has come to protect one of the pillars of the Constitution. But nothing was done,” Chief Justice Thakur said again.
“The population has increased by over 25 crore from 1987 to 2016 and the average disposal of cases by any Indian judge, right from a Munsiff to a Supreme Court judge is 2061 a year,” Chief Justice Thakur said.
The Chief Justice’s remarks and appeal that it is “time to protect the judiciary, which is one of the pillars of our Constitution” saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi deliver an unscheduled speech immediately after the former took his seat on the dais.
The Prime Minister Modi said judges and the government should sit together and work for a more efficient tomorrow rather than dwell in the past and what was said in 1987.
“I can understand his pains..that the 1987 proposal (of increasing the judge, population ratio) was not fulfilled by the government,” PM Modi said while addressing the conference.
“Some of these laws date back to 1880s. Somebody wants to do something, he is shown a law drafted in the last century and told to stop doing it,” Mr. Modi said.
The PM also said efficiency when making laws needs to be increased. “There are so many laws that are redundant and not suited for the times, those need to be removed,” PM Modi said.
the PM later proposed a closed-door meeting with him to discuss manpower issues and judicial reforms.
Justice Thakur probably put it best when he said : “Simply putting old wine in new bottle will not serve the purpose.”
Source: The Hindu