The long running face-off between the Supreme Court and government has now become starkly public, with a peeved apex court demanding that the government submit an explanation by April 8 as to why as many as 55 recommendations for judicial appointments made by the Supreme Court collegium which recommends names to the executive for judicial appointments, have been kept pending, some for over a year-and-a-half.
The delay is all the more shocking since there is already a huge problem of vacant posts in most of India’s higher courts. Almost 40 per cent of the sanctioned posts in the Supreme Court and high courts put together, are vacant, with large states like Bihar, Rajasthan and West Bengal suffering a more than 50 per cent deficit. Even in the capital city of Delhi, nearly half the high court posts are vacant.
Such large shortfalls in capacity create serious roadblocks in justice delivery. Cases take years, decades and sometimes generations to come to a conclusion, rendering the idea of judicial justice delivery meaningless. At present, there are more than 56 lakh cases pending at the high-court level and over 66,000 cases at the Supreme Court level. Even at full strength, this backlog will take decades to clear, even as fresh cases pile up. This needs to be fixed urgently in the public interest.
While the collegium system has been criticised for a lack of transparency and accountability, the government on its part needs to explain why it is sitting over the appointment of judges. While every government has attempted to shape the judiciary in its favour – the so-called ‘committed judiciary’ concept first articulated by the late Indira Gandhi – it needs to resolve differences with the collegium by negotiation and not by sitting on appointments.