By Sunil Garodia
The Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, has written two letters to the Prime Minister suggesting increasing the bench strength of the Supreme Court and fixing the retirement age of High Court judges from at 65 (from the present 62 years). In a third letter, the CJI has sought that retired SC and HC judges be given tenure appointments under Articles 128 and 224A of the constitution respectively so that they can be assigned pending cases. All of them are good suggestions and the government should seriously consider them and make the necessary constitutional amendments to implement them.
The Supreme Court currently has a bench strength of 31 judges which is highly inadequate given the size of the judiciary in the country. There are 24 High Courts in India at present and this number might increase in the future given the trend of carving out smaller states. Decisions of high courts are usually challenged in the apex court. Even if we keep two judges for every high court, we need 48 judges in the apex court. Since the formalities involved in increasing the bench strength are long and need the amending of the constitution, the government will do well to raise it to 50 at one go. It is true that a lot of cost is involved, in creating additional infrastructure and the salaries to be paid, but given the backlog of cases, a kneejerk response of increasing it by 4 or five judges will not do.
The current retirement age of high court judges at 62 years is discriminatory as Supreme Court judges retire at 65. Since judges are elevated from the high court to the Supreme Court, the three year gap in retirement age means that many good high court judges do not get elevated to the apex court. Hence, it will be good if the retirement age of high court judges is raised to 65. In fact, since retired judges are sought to be recalled under Articles 128 and 224A, one feels that it will be better if the retirement age of all SC and HC judges is fixed at 68 years.
The CJI has highlighted that there are over 58669 lakh cases pending in the Supreme Court, out of which 26 cases are pending for 25 years, 100 cases for 20 years, 593 cases for 15 years and 4977 cases for 10 years. In addition, there are 43 lakh cases pending in the 24 high courts of the country. There are also huge vacancies in all the high courts. 399 judges need to be appointed to the HCs to complete the sanctioned bench strength, which means there is 37% shortage of judges.
The government must
look into the matter and take steps to first fill the vacancies in the HCs and
then increase the age of retirement of both HC and SC judges. To clear the
backlog of cases, it must also think of recruiting retired judges under
Articles 128 and 224A. Pending cases mean justice is being delayed and it has
an adverse impact on the faith in the judiciary and the judicial system. The
government must rectify the situation at the earliest.