Vacancies in courts have been a sore point with judges. Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana is no exception. He recently observed that 4.8 crore pending cases was due to the vacancy of 388 out of 1,104 high court judges and a marginal increase in the strength of trial court judges from 20,811 to 24,112 since 2016 despite an upsurge in cases from 2.65 crore to 4.11 crore.
He argued that deliberate inaction by the government, non-performance of bureaucracy and the tendency of the legislature and executive to play safe by avoiding taking decisions and leaving it to the courts to take a final call has contributed to the shortages.
Explaining it further, he said that if tehsildars, panchayat and civic bodies, revenue officers and police act judiciously, perform their duties properly, follow due process of law, officials do not sit over judicial pronouncements deliberately causing contempt of court proceedings and parliament refrains from enacting laws in haste, courts would not be burdened with such huge pendency.
CJI couldn't be more spot on. But how does one overcome the systemic rot and make institutions function when officials and politicians are mostly corrupt and disproportionately hungry for power and position? CJI will have to wait for a more perfect version of Ram Rajya to dawn in order to realise his expectations.
Meanwhile, it may be worthwhile making some in-house efforts to avert the crisis. If auditing of pendency by an independent judicial agency is regularly carried out, redundancy of judges will surface automatically. The reason is, that only 40 percent of efficient, upright and committed officers make a difference in the fast and unbiased disposal of cases. Other 20 percent can be made to work but the rest are freeloaders who can be easily dispensed with. They have now become even more redundant with technology replacing wasteful, routine and time-consuming jobs.
The Supreme Court can also consider impressing on judges to write maximum 30-page judgments that are less verbose, repetitive and shorn of social, political, economic and religious commentaries. This will save them plenty of time to dispose of languishing cases.
The tendency of judges to recuse themselves due to conflict of interest, fear of criticism and past association with litigants further add to the problem. Recusal may appear ethical but actually it belies one's moral strength.
Once appointed a judge, the person gets elevated to the status of 'Panch Parmeshwar' and looked upon to act like the mythological Lady Justice, who remains blindfolded and impervious to factors other than the evidence and jurisprudence. Moreover, it is good to have concern for people's welfare and miseries but taking up issues suo moto that are essentially administrative in nature seriously impedes the delivery process of the executive.
(The writer is former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)