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Court vacancies call for public debate: Committee
June 13, 2006 13:18 IST
With more than 100 vacancies plaguing higher echelons of a judiciary, already weighed down by 30 million case arrears, a parliamentary panel has called for a public debate to find a way to appoint judges instead of letting 'judiciary alone' pick them.
"Time has come when the issue has... to be debated in the public domain," the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances and Law and Justice has stressed.
The suggestion by the committee headed by E M Sudarsana Natchiappan came in its latest Report on the Law and Justice Ministry's 2006-07 Demands for Grants.
Experts underscore the importance of integrity and merit in judicial appointment and say transparency and accountability need not be overlooked in the name of judicial independence.
The function of appointing Judges was taken over by the judiciary through a Supreme Court judgment of October 1993, read with its advisory opinion issued five years later.
From time to time, the Law and Justice Ministry has reminded High Court Chief Justices and State Chief Ministers and Governors to initiate proposals to fill vacancies -- without much avail.
Among priorities Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj listed when the Left-backed United Progressive Alliance government took office in May 2004 was filling such vacancies.
Almost two years later, on March 22, a count showed that three of India's 26 Supreme Court Judgeships were vacant as were 108 of 675 Judgeships in 21 High Courts, the Committee said.
"There has not been any perceptible improvement in the position of vacancies of Judges in Supreme Court and High Courts under the post 1993 arrangement,'' the Committee asserted.
Officials say India's senior and subordinate judiciaries have less than 15,000 officers between them, ranging from Munsifs to the Chief Justice.
Indian authorities got a wake-up call 19 years ago from the Law Commission which cited population-judge ratio in leading Western democracies and advised hiring at least 50,000 judges.
But let alone raising their strength, even posts already sanctioned remain vacant, which is surprising as authorities know from day one when judges retire and can plan ahead.
The Law Commission's advice is practically ignored while authorities try lok adalats, fast track courts, tribunals, computerisation, laptops, electronic devices and alternatives such as conciliation and arbitration to ease pressure-- again without avail.
The number of pending cases has galloped, placed now at 30 million -- up from 21 million just a decade ago.
In Allahabad High Court, for instance, almost one fourth of 800,000 cases awaiting disposal have been pending for more than ten years, Home Ministry officials say.