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Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

No scientific data to prove India needs 40,000 judges: Sadananda Gowda

Union law minister Sadananda Gowda says the number of judges is decided on the basis of workload and not on judge to population ratio

New Delhi: The government on Wednesday said the report cited by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) to claim that the country needed 40,000 judges was not based on any scientific research, but maintained it has hastened efforts to fill up vacancies in Supreme Court and the high courts.

Addressing a press conference to mark two years of the Narendra Modi government, Union law minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda said the adequacy of bench strength in a country is determined on the basis of workload on the courts and not judge-population ratio.

In the presence of the prime minister on 24 April, CJI T.S. Thakur had lamented the government’s “inaction" in increasing the number of judges from the present 21,000 to 40,000 to handle the “avalanche" of litigations, saying, “You cannot shift the entire burden on the judiciary".

He had said “nothing has moved" since 1987 when the Law Commission had recommended increase in the number of judges from 10 judges per 10 lakh people to 50.

Responding to a question on whether the government will be able to reach the target of 40,000 judges—judges in the lower courts as well as the Supreme Court and the 24 high courts—Gowda said the Law Commission report given in 1987 was based on the opinion of some experts and the public.

“In the report itself they said that this has to be calculated on the basis of scientific data. But no scientific data was available. Even recently in the Imtiaz Ahmed case, the Supreme Court itself has asked the Law Commission to once again look into the matter. They once again said that this may not be possible unless we get scientific data," Gowda said.

Gowda said though the Supreme Court collegium is still considering the draft of the revised memorandum of procedure (MoP)—a document to guide the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary—he recently wrote to the CJI asking him to keep sending names for appointments which can be cleared based on the old MoP.

“Appointment of judges to the higher judiciary has been undertaken; 86 additional Judges were made permanent, 51 new judges were appointed and appointment of another 170 is being processed. We cleared the name of four SC judges in a record six working days," Gowda said.

“Judges’ sanctioned strength of the high courts has been increased from 906 on 1 June 2014 to 1,065 as on 27 April this year. In the case of district/subordinate courts, the sanctioned strength has been increased from 17,715 at the end of 2012 to 20,502 in December 2015," he said.

At the same time, the minister contended that unnecessary adjournments in certain lower courts were also responsible for mounting pendency. Instead of a maximum of three adjournments allowed in civil matters, courts in Rajasthan and Odisha, he said, had adjourned hearings even 40 to 50 times.

“The cases are frequently delayed in courts on account of improper investigations, lack of forensic laboratories, shortage of public prosecutors and improper application of rules and procedures," he said.

Asked to respond to the Supreme Court collegium’s objection to a clause in the MoP in which the government has sought to reserve the right to reject a recommendation on concerns of national interest, Gowda said he has so far not received any feedback from the CJI on the issue.

Asked about the response of the government to the collegium’s reported move to ignore seniority in elevating chief justices of high courts to the apex court, Gowda said it was up to the judiciary.

“Had the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act been there, we would have said something in the regard," he said.

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