Delays in appointments
Chief Justice of India TS Thakur on Friday slammed the Centre for delaying the appointment of judges and thereby trying to bring the judiciary to a “grinding halt”. He informed Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that as many as 75 names had been recommended by the Collegium since February for the appointment of judges to high courts across the country.
These appointments have reportedly not been finalised yet. The apex court bench said that most High Courts currently contain only 40 percent of their sanctioned strength. Since 1987, when the Law Commission had recommended an increase in the number of judges from 10 judges per 10 lakh people to 50, nothing has moved. The pendency of cases in Indian courts is extremely high. Recent studies indicate that five crore cases are filed ever day, of which only two crore are disposed by the judiciary. That’s a backlog of three crore cases ever day. Admittedly, the Centre deserves a little stick for these delays. However, the blame not only lies with the Executive.
The current impasse is down to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Bill in October 2015. Although the Collegium system has brought greater independence to the judiciary, the appointments made through it are non-transparent, and often riddled with allegations of nepotism. The system of checks and balances plays a vitally important role in ensuring that none of the three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial can limit the powers of the others. Critics also argue that recurring activism by the judiciary in matters under the direct jurisdiction of the Executive has disturbed the delicate balance of powers enshrined in the Constitution.
The National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill introduced by the current NDA government was overwhelmingly passed by Parliament to reestablish the system of checks and balances and wrest some of its powers to appoint judges from the judiciary. The apex court’s decision to strike down the entire bill disrespected not only the executive arm of the government but the very will of the people.
Despite the force of the recommendations made in the recent Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) presented by the Centre, it is incumbent on the higher judiciary to act and open itself up to a little more public scrutiny.