PM, Chief Justice Differ on ways to Tackle Backlog of Cases

New Delhi, Aug 16 : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan Sunday appeared to be differing on appointing more judges to reduce the huge backlog of cases pending in the judiciary.

As Manmohan Singh urged the judiciary to eliminate its backlog of 31.18 million cases, the largest in the world, Chief Justice Balakrishnan attributed the malady to the “chronic shortage of judicial officers” and demanded appointment of more judges to match the country’s judge-to-population’ ratio to that of developed nations.

The prime minister, in turn, conceded the need to enhance the judges’ strength in proportion to the population, but only after filling up existing vacancies at the levels of the subordinate judiciary and the high courts – a task largely performed by the judiciary itself.

The differing perception of priorities of the executive and judiciary on the issue of huge backlog of cases was apparent from the addresses of the prime minister and the chief justice at the day-long annual conference of the chief justices and the chief ministers of various states at Vigyan Bhawan here.

The meet was also attended by Law and Justice Minister M. Veerappa Moily and several apex court judges.

Pointing out a host of intrinsic merits and strengths for which the Indian judiciary commands respect the world over, Manmohan Singh said: “Despite its strengths, brilliance and dynamism, India has to suffer the scourge of the world’s largest backlog of cases.”

“The expeditious elimination of this scourge is the biggest challenge,” he said, adding: “Let us take a vow to ensure that the enormous global respect for the Indian judiciary for its path-breaking doctrines and consistent independence be soon matched by similar accolades for an arrear-free judicial institution.”

“Like Gandhiji’s common man, the focus of the judicial system should to be to wipe every tear of every waiting litigant,” he added.

The chief justice said: “As per figures available for June 30, 2009, – there were a total of 52,592 cases pending before the Supreme Court, an aggregate of 4,017,956 cases pending before the high courts, and 27,119,092 cases pending before all the subordinate courts put together.”

“I have repeatedly urged the need for expanding our judicial system by ensuring the expeditious filling up of vacancies as well as the sanctioning of more positions for judicial officers. There has undoubtedly been a chronic shortage of judicial officers, Justice Balakrishnan said.

“In 1987, the 124th Report of the Law Commission had indicated that our judicial system needed to be expanded by at least five times in order to meet the ‘judge-to-population’ ratio of developed nations. That is of course a very ambitious target which may take years to attain, but we must take gradual and firm steps in that direction,” said the chief justice.

But the prime minister, while delivering his address after the CJI, wanted the judiciary to first fill the existing vacancies. “The existing vacancies in high courts are quite high in number and need to be filled up urgently. I would urge the chief justices of high courts to initiate proposals for quickly filling up these posts,” he said.

“Vacancies at the subordinate level roughly comprise 20 to 25 percent of subordinate judicial posts. I am told that almost 3,000 posts of judges in the country are vacant because of delay in recruitment. All these vacant posts at the subordinate levels need to be filled up without any further loss of time,” the prime minister added.

Manmohan Singh said that “there is scope for significant future increase in court strength to improve India’s low judge-per-million-population ratio. This is subject, of course, to expeditious filling of existing vacancies.”

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