On Saturday, the Union Law and Justice minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said he respectfully disagreed with the Chief Justice of India (CJI). The Government, he claimed, had appointed 120 High Court judges this year, the second highest appointments following 121 appointments made in 2013. CJI TS Thakur, who retires on January 3, 2017, had again lamented the Government’s indifference to judges’ appointment and claimed that 500 posts of high court judges lie vacant in the country.
The Union Minister significantly made no mention of the Government’s disregard of transfer of judges recommended by the collegium way back in February this year.
In an article in livelaw.in Abhik Chimni, a lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court wrote in August, 2016: “Currently we are in a situation where the “right to appeal” to the high court itself is becoming a struggle for citizens. This Government has seen vacancies going up from 30% in May 2014 to 44% in 2016. Litigants in this country are struggling to find relief in cases ranging from pension payments to the illegal acquisition of land to the unlawful arrests and prosecutions where innocent people remain in jail because of a lack of access to courts."
In the same article the author had said, “The Judiciary cannot keep being blamed for the state of our justice system. The 2014-15 budget saw a mere 0.11% dedicated to the courts, which shows the priority the political class gives the judiciary. Increased litigation is a sign of peoples’ awareness of rights and also that they believe the courts can provide relief."
The following chronology reveals how frustrating the year must have been for the CJI:
JANUARY 7, 2016: The Times of India reported that there were 445 vacancies of HC judges
APRIL, 2016: The CJI again took up the issue, and at a meeting of chief ministers and chief justices of high courts asked the Prime Minister to help improve the situation. The Hindu reported that appointment of 169 HC judges were pending with the Government. The PM offered to set up a joint committee and asked why the judges couldn’t cut down on holidays.
AUGUST, 2016: The CJI once again raised the issue of vacancies and said it was a national challenge.
AUGUST, 2016: Don’t force us to pass orders to remove this logjam, said the CJI, and added that 75 names for appointment as HC judges have been pending since February.
AUGUST 12, 2016: In a rare outburst, the CJI threatened to withdraw judicial work from two judges of the Delhi High Court unless the Government cleared their transfer recommended in February, 2016 by the collegium
SEPTEMBER, 2016: The CJI circulated the shortlisted list of potential judges to the members of the collegium. This happened for the first time.
OCTOBER, 2016: The CJI warned the Centre not to turn it into an ‘ego issue’.
OCTOBER 28, 2016: The CJI warned that the apex court would be forced to summon officials of the PMO if appointment of judges was delayed. “We cannot allow you to scuttle the system; you have been sitting over the proposals for nine months…”, the court told Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.