Kiren Rijiju, referring to the Supreme Court’s Collegium system of appointment to the higher judiciary, said on Thursday that this issue cannot be resolved until there is a “new system” for appointment. He linked the huge pendency of cases in courts to the vacant positions of judges.
It is his “obligation and duty to convey to the judiciary the message or sense of this House.”. He added, “there is a feeling among people of India that the long vacation which the courts receive is not very convenient for justice-seekers.”.
After criticizing the Collegium system as “opaque” in his remarks in the House, Rijiju called the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling striking down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act to be a severe compromise of parliamentary sovereignty and a disregard of the people’s mandate.
According to Rijiju, the number of pending cases in the country has reached 4.90 crore, a response to a question asked by Congress MP Rajeev Shukla in the Rajya Sabha about the number of working days of the courts.
According to him, there are several reasons for this, but the “primary reason is the appointment of judges” and vacancies in the sanctioned strength of the court.
According to the Minister’s written response, as of December 12, 2022, there were 25,011 sanctioned judges and 19,192 working judges in the Supreme Court, High Courts, district courts, and subordinate courts. He stated that 46 judges had been appointed to the Supreme Court between May 1, 2014 and December 5, 2022. As of December 1, 2022, there were 69,598 pending cases in the Supreme Court, as per the court’s own website, and 59.56 lakh pending cases in the High Courts.
There are very limited powers available to the government at this point to reduce vacancies. I would not like to comment much on the courts, as the government sometimes appears to interfere with the court’s powers. In accordance with the Constitution, the appointment process is the government’s responsibility, with the court’s consent. The situation changed after 1993. As part of our efforts to end the pending cases, we are offering our support; however, until we set up a new system for appointing judges, questions will continue to be raised regarding the appointment of judges.”
He cited the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014, passed by Parliament unanimously, but the Supreme Court overturned it in 2015. In his opinion, the current system of appointing judges – the Collegium system – doesn’t reflect the feelings of the people. Many retired judges, including members of the Constitution Bench that struck down NJAC, have since stated publicly that striking down a law passed by Parliament is wrong.
Tiruchi Siva asked the Minister why there weren’t more women, SCs, STs, and OBCs judges. She said there wasn’t a reservation policy, but the government had written to High Court Chief Justices to make sure disadvantaged groups aren’t forgotten when recommending candidates. He said there had only been one ST judge before.
In response to vacations, the Minister said the Supreme Court had 224, 217, and 202 working days in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Likewise, all High Courts have 210 working days a year on average.
A supplementary question came from BJP MP Sushil Modi. He asked if the government would speak to the Chief Justice about switching from vacations for the whole court to individual vacations.
S P Singh Baghel said the Supreme Court and High Courts decide their own working days and the government doesn’t have any say. It’s okay to talk,” he said.
Vivek Tankha suggested the same thing, and Rijiju said: “Definitely, people of India feel that the long vacations the courts get don’t make it easy to get justice.” As the Law Minister, it’s also my bounded duty to communicate with the judiciary what this House feels. No matter what, the court won’t stop working during vacations.”