Appointment of judges

That the number of judges in the Supreme Court and High Courts is quite inadequate is admitted by all but there is no urge on the part of the concerned authorities to fill up the vacancies quickly. There are other chronic problems also which have, for unknown reasons, been allowed to plague the system for long. Justice Nishita Mhatre was appointed Acting Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court in December last year. She retired a few days ago in the same position, as Acting CJ. The Government neither confirmed her appointment nor appointed a permanent Chief Justice. Now, with the appointment of six more judges, the number of judges has gone up to 36, which is half the approved strength of 72. As a result the number of pending cases is going up and up. At present the number of pending cases in the Calcutta high Court is a staggering 3.52 lakhs, many of them pending for decades. In the lower courts of West Bengal, the number of pending cases is 28.56 lakh.
The situation is no different in the Supreme Court. There are 64,300 pending cases before the apex court. There are now 25 judges in the apex court against a sanctioned strength of 31. But it has long been felt that more judges need to be appointed. Now there is a tussle going on between the Centre and the apex court over whether the Government or the Supreme Court should have greater say in the appointment of judges. The Government, it seems, is determined to have a greater say. With this end in view the Government passed the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act. But this was struck down by the Supreme Court in October, 2015 as also the relevant constitutional amendment. It restored the old collegium system of appointing judges in the higher judiciary.
The way the NJAC Act was passed by the Parliament caused serious doubts about the intention of the Government. To many it seemed that the Government – that is, the executive – wants a pliant rather than an independent judiciary. When the Supreme Court struck down the Act, everyone heaved a sigh of relief. The country is passing through a critical period now when the democratic space is getting rapidly constricted. The judiciary is the last resort of the common citizen to seek redress against anti-democratic and arbitrary acts of the executive. Judicial freedom has to be fiercely defended against any executive interference or encroachment.

Wednesday, 20 September, 2017