The problem of shortage of judges is becoming more and more acute, with vacancies in the country's higher judiciary increasing by the month. There never was a time in the last few decades when the Supreme Court and the high courts had their full quota of judges. But now, the situation is fast assuming the dimensions of a crisis, forcing stakeholders like the lawyers to resort to agitations, demanding appointment of more judges. Lawyers from Karnataka filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking filling up of the vacancies in the high court. They also went on a strike last month to highlight the problem. There are 37 vacancies in the high court now as against the sanctioned strength of 62 judges. Lawyers in Odisha also went on strike last month, and those in Kolkata are boycotting the high court till March 5, making the same demand.
There are six vacancies in the Supreme Court, 395 vacancies in 24 high courts and about 6,000 vacancies in the subordinate judiciary. Some judges were recently appointed but that has not improved the situation at all. More vacancies are to arise very soon, with seven Supreme Court judges retiring this year and many more retiring in the high courts. Many high courts have acting chief justices, as their posts have not been confirmed. Some of the chief justices who were appointed only recently are also set to retire soon. All this shows that the country is staring at a serious judicial crunch. The situation is the result of the failure of the Supreme Court and the government to agree on the system of appointments. The court's collegium makes the recommendations and the government makes the appointment through the President. But over 100 recommendations for appointment as high court judges are pending with the government. It also reportedly has reservations about the proposal to elevate a high court chief justice to the Supreme Court.
The differences between the government and the court over finalising a Memorandum of Procedure for appointment of judges has caused this deadlock. The government prepared a draft MoP at the behest of the court after the court struck down the bill on judicial appointments. The court does not want the government to reject its recommendations. The government recently told Parliament that it has conveyed to the court the need to make improvements in the draft MoP. The tussle has continued for about two years and it should be resolved at the earliest in public interest. Over 4.2 million cases are pending in the high courts and 2.62 crore cases await resolution in the lower judiciary. The victims are the common people.