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Supreme Court chides itself, govt for judicial backlog
January, 12th 2012

Anguished over the state of affairs of the justice delivery system, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said people's faith in judiciary was dwindling at an alarming rate, posing a grave threat to constitutional and democratic governance of the country.

If the apex court highlighted the non-filling of nearly 300 posts of high court judges to reflect the deficiency in itself as HC judges are selected and recommended for appointment by a collegium headed by the Chief Justice of India, it was highly critical of the government for talking tall about fighting the pendency of 2.77 crore cases in trial courts but doing nothing on the ground.

A bench of Justices A K Ganguly and T S Thakur was unsparing in its comments while candid in acknowledging the woes - large number of vacancies in trial courts, unwillingness of lawyers to become judges, failure of the apex judiciary in filling vacant HC judges posts and the dragging of feet by the Centre in keeping its promises.

On the vacancies in HCs, the bench said, "The Allahabad High Court is the largest high court but 50% of judges' post are lying vacant. It is an area of grave concern. People are getting more and more aware of their rights and want speedy justice. The courts cannot stop filing of cases on the ground that there are vacancies. But the vacancies in the HCs are not getting filled. This is posing grave threat to constitutional and democratic governance system as people are resorting to extra-judicial methods to sort out their disputes."

Turning its attention to the government, the bench said UPA-2 had with much fanfare announced the Vision Document promising to appoint 5,000 ad-hoc judges to wipe out a pendency of 2.77 crore cases in the trial courts. "Three years have gone by. Except for the announcement, nothing has been done. The scheme is also wholly unworkable as lawyers were not interested in permanent posts of judges and would they take up ad-hoc appointments to dispense justice on a daily wage?"

Amicus curiae and senior advocate Gopal Subramaniam, who as solicitor general had contributed to the drafting of the Vision Document in 2009 when M Veerappa Moily was the law minister, joined the bench in criticizing the government. "When the government says it respects the judiciary and its independence, there is a hidden line in it. The courts are not being given importance that is why the justice dispensation system is in such a disarray," he added.

But, the bench said how would the judiciary ask the government about what it has done. "The government will say 'out of 900 sanctioned strength of high court judges 300 are lying vacant, why don't you appoint'," it said.

However, it wanted to seek answers from the government on amicus curiae's suggestion that access to justice must be made a constitutional right and consequently the executive must provide necessary infrastructure for ensuring every citizen enjoyed this right. It also wanted the Centre to detail the work being done by the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms. The hearing would continue on Thursday.

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