NEW DELHI: Concerned over rising vacancies in subordinate judiciary and huge pendency of cases, the Supreme Court today sought the views of state governments on a central selection mechanism for judicial officers as it decided to examine the proposals of its committee on judicial reforms.
"The Union Government is on board and it has made us conscious to fill up the vacancies in subordinate judiciary. We have held detailed consultation and deliberation and decided that through a judicial order, we should crystalise it," a bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar said.
The bench, while asking the various state government to file their replies or suggestions on the proposals clarified, said "our endeavour is not to touch the federal structure, but we want to explore whether a singular agency can hold the examination for filling up the vacancies in lower judiciary in various states".
It said the Centre has suggested various options to fill up the vacancies and one such suggestion is a Central Selection Mechanism.
The bench, also comprising Justices A K Goel and A M Khanwilkar, said the selection process will remain the same and where state public service commissions or concerned high courts were holding tests for filling up the posts, will continue to do so.
"The only thing which will change is the agency holding the examination and it will be a common test for filling up the vacancies in each states like NEET. It won't be something like All India Judicial Service," the bench said.
The apex court was hearing a case taken up on its own after a letter was written to secretary general of the apex court by Secretary (Justice) Snehlata Shrivastava.
It said an individual candidate seeking to apply for examination will get an added advantage of applying for multiple states.
"Union government is on board and we are also making effort to fill up the vacancies and for this purpose we would pass judicial direction," it said, adding that by an earlier order in All India Judges Association case, the post and rank of judges were brought in uniformity.
The apex court said this would expedite the process of filling up the vacancies with the help of states on a regular basis. Moreover, if there is challenge to the process of selection, it could be done at one place,in the Supreme Court.
"The challenge, if any to the selection process, could be dealt at one place, in Supreme Court, unlike now. At present several litigations are pending in various high courts due to which the entire process is stalled," it said asking the states to file their suggestions if any by June 30 and posted the matter for further hearing on July 10.
According to a report earlier issued by Supreme Court --'Indian Judiciary Annual Report 2015-2016'-- a whopping 2.8 crore cases are pending in district courts across the country which are short of nearly 5,000 judicial officers.
The report had suggested increasing the judicial manpower "manifold" -- at least seven times -- to overcome the crisis by appointing about 15,000 more judges in the coming years.
Another apex court report -- 'Subordinate Courts of India: A Report on Access to Justice 2016'-- also highlighted that nearly 15,000 more judges would be required in next three years to overcome this critical situation.
It had said that district courts across the country were grappling with a backlog of 2,81,25,066 civil and criminal cases in the period between July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.
Referring to a meeting held by representative of government and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, who is also Chairman of Arrears Committee of Supreme Court on April 8, the letter of Secretary (Justice) said the timely filling up of vacancies in the subordinate judiciary was highlighted as an area of concern. The senior officer suggested options like alternative method of recruitment and said "in this regard, it was proposed that a Centralised Selection Committee for direct recruitment of Higher Subordinate State Judiciary be constituted under the Chairmanship of the Chief Justice of India and his nominee and with the representation from High Courts and other experts as may be necessary.
"Selection for all direct recruitment to the judiciary be conducted under the directions of the said Committee by an appropriate evaluation mechanism for prompt filling up of vacancies without compromising the quality."
Among the options suggested for creation and operation of the Central Selection Mechanism are a centralised all India national level examination conducted by a recruitment body for selection of the candidates for the higher judiciary in District and Subordinate Courts.
The body under the supervision of the Supreme Court may conduct national level examinations at preliminary and main stages, including interviews, for identified number of vacancies.
It also suggested that the centralised examination could also be conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) as the commission has the constitutional mandate, expertise and experience in organising All India recruitments.
The letter suggested a third option that a candidate appearing in the competitive examination may be allowed to give option for serving under the jurisdiction of specific or alternate High Court.
Once the selection is made and the candidate is assigned to a particular high court on merit, it would be the responsibility of that High Court to impart appropriate training before induction in service through State Judicial Academy.
Among other suggestions include the adoption of CBSE model for conducting National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) or following the model adopted for recruitment in banking services.