Parliament: Union Ministers Admit to Acute Shortage of Judges, Bureaucrats

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said while his ministry has been trying to fill vacant judge's posts, vacancies keep arising for a number of reasons.

New Delhi: The Union government on Thursday admitted that there is an acute shortage of judges and bureaucrats in India, through answers to two separate questions raised in the Lok Sabha.

Congress party legislators Adoor Prakash from Kerala and Manickam Tagore B. from Tamil Nadu had asked whether shortage of judges in the higher judiciary was leading to a delay in the disposal of pending cases or not. They also asked what the government is doing to fill the posts, especially when the Chief Justice of India has already sent his proposal to “raise the strength of judges”.

Law and justice minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in his reply that although there are no vacancies in the Supreme Court, which has reached its full strength of 31 judges, “for the first time since 2009,” there were 403 vacancies in the high courts as on July 1, 2019.

“Appointment of judges in the high courts is a continuous collaborative process between the executive and the judiciary, as it requires consultation and approval from various constitutional authorities,” he reasoned, adding that the Chief Justices of the high courts have to initiate the proposal for the appointment of judges.

He said that while his ministry has been making efforts to fill up the vacant posts, vacancies keep arising “on account of retirement, resignation, or elevation of judges and increase in judge strength.”

Also read: Centre Blocking Elevation of Justice Kureshi, Who Once Sent Amit Shah to Custody

He added that on the last count on July 1, 59,331 cases had been pending in the Supreme Court while a whopping 43.55 lakh cases are yet to be resolved in the high courts.

However, Prasad said that shortage of judges is not singularly responsible for the delays as there are multiple other factors that have led to the immense backlog.

Some of the factors Prasad listed were an increasing number of state and Central legislations, accumulation of first appeals, frequent adjournments, indiscriminate use of writ jurisdiction, lack of adequate arrangement to monitor, track and bunch cases for hearing, long vacation periods and increasing burden of administrative work for judges.

Was the minister thus passing the buck directly to the top judges? The judges may not think so, considering that Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has only recently written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the problem of shortage in courts.

However, Prasad said the matter of “augmenting judge strength” and raising the the retirement age of high court judges, as proposed by the CJI, “needs to be considered along with other measures to ensure transparency, accountability in the appointment of judges, and court and case management for reduction in pendency of cases in the higher judiciary.”

Also read | Give and Take: The Supreme Court’s Way of Business

One may note that the government has been persistently trying to increase its role in the appointment of judges of the higher courts through a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) instead of the current collegium system. However, the apex court had struck the government’s proposal down in 2015.

Executive shortage

While the Union government’s performance in appointing judges is matched by an equally poor, if not poorer, record in filling up vacancies in the bureaucracy, the government has been taking credit for bringing dynamism in bureaucracy by revamping the work culture to reduce red-tapism, and promoting lateral entry of private experts at the top level.

However, the junior minister of personnel, public grievances and pensions, Jitendra Singh, who is also the minister of state for the Prime Minister’s Office, admitted that there were nearly 1,500 vacant Indian Administrative Service (IAS) positions.

In his reply to Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Maharajganj, Janardan Singh Sigriwal, he said, “Officers in position as on January 1, 2019, are 5,205 against the total authorised strength of 6,699.”

He added that the annual intake of directly-recruited IAS officers has been increasing since 1998 and “prompt actions” are also being taken for “holding selection committee meetings” for promotee IAS officers from the states.

In the annexure that he enclosed to list statewise vacancies, it appears that the BJP-ruled states have a poorer record in filling up IAS vacancies. The states of Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh have a significantly higher number of vacancies in proportion to the total sanctioned strength.

While Maharashtra has a sanctioned strength of 415, only 316 IAS officers are currently positions in the state. Similarly, Jammu and Kashmir has only 74 IAS officers compared to the sanctioned 137 positions. Uttar Pradesh has 496 serving IAS officers, including promotees, while it should optimally have 621.

Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and the Union Territories (Excluding Andaman & Nicobar Islands) or AGMUT cadre, which are directly controlled by the Centre, showed the worst figures as well. Out of 403, the authorised strength of the cadre, the Centre has deployed only 271 IAS officers in the cadre.