This article has been written by Yajnaseni Chakraborty.
Addressing a seminar in New Delhi in February 2022, then Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana, said there was a need to both increase the number of judges in India, and to fill existing vacancies urgently.
Of course, he was speaking from his position as the ultimate insider, but according to our own calculations, India currently needs a huge number of judges to clear the backlog of cases pending in various courts.
According to data from the National Judicial Data Grid for district and taluka courts in India:
- A total of 42,780,048 (nearly 42.80 crore) cases are pending before the lower courts as of October 2022
- A little over 15 percent of these cases have been pending for five to 10 years, while nearly 23 percent have been pending for one to three years
- A whopping 61 percent of cases have been pending for more than a year
These are alarming statistics, and the enormous pressure of the backlog on overworked judiciary officials is already leading to justice being denied to the common Indian.
Tomorrow, if any of you or your friends or family members had to appear before a court, would you expect timely justice?
It is an unbearable situation for many, and even foreign investors cite concerns regarding the justice system as a reason for not investing more aggressively in the Indian economy.
A healthy judge-to-population ratio is also important to climb up the Ease of Doing Business rankings issued by the World Bank, which is an economic priority of any government.
And solving this crisis is also a massive policy priority of not only the Supreme Court but also the central government and every state government.
The 120th Law Commission of India had recommended that the ratio of judges per million (10 lakh) people be increased to 50. This was reiterated by the Supreme Court and the Standing Committee on Home Affairs.
In 2012, the ratio was at 13 judges per million people. And then, something began to shift and appointments of lower judiciary judges picked up pace.
In the last decade, the sanctioned strength has increased by 39 percent, creating a staggering 6,885 vacancies.
And yet as recently as 2020, the judge-to-population ratio stood at just 21 judges per million people.
Note that this figure is calculated based on the sanctioned strength of judges in the Supreme Court, High Courts and subordinate courts and usually 25-30 percent of the sanctioned strength remains vacant owing to retirements.
How many judges will we need in the near future?
We have calculated that since India’s population is roughly 1.3 billion, we require 65,000 judges to meet the recommended rate of 50 judges per million people.
As of 2021, we had 18,934 judges and 5,589 vacancies as per the ‘sanctioned strength’ of judges in High Courts and lower courts.
65,000-18,934 = 46,066
Ergo, we need over 45,000 new judges in the coming few years. That is nothing short of a tsunami of vacancies.
Even if we forget about 50 judges and simply adhere to the existing growth rate in sanctioned strength of the courts, India will have a sanctioned strength of 28,814 judges by 2023. Which means we will need an additional 9,880 judges given the current number of 18,934.
As a result, more judges are being hired, with a massive unprecedented increase in vacancies on the cards.
The crisis and the solution
Many judges have been quitting the judiciary to go into private practice and even join top private law firms, given that the latter have traditionally offered a lot more in terms of remuneration.
This has created a huge crisis in terms of hiring and retaining talented professionals in the judiciary, and that is hurting the country.
Many states have in the past been criticised for the pay offered to lower judiciary officials. Realising the need to attract and retain quality talent, the central government has taken several measures to vastly improve pay scales, which we have discussed in an earlier message.
The idea is that the nearly three-fold increase in salaries as proposed by the second National Judicial Pay Commission will encourage more legal professionals to write the Judiciary exams.
Take a look at the following data showing the vacancies for judges in India’s lower courts in February, 2020. The numbers have increased in the past couple of years. As we have established earlier, with the increase in population, vacancies are bound to go up.
For the Delhi Judiciary exam in 2019, 66 percent seats could not be filled, though more than 12,000 students appeared for the exam. Candidates were simply unable to score even the cut off marks.
So why are Judiciary aspirants unable to meet the minimum requirements to clear the examination?
We investigated, and what we found was extremely interesting. After interviewing hundreds of judges, including those who have recently cleared the Judiciary exams, as well as those who haven’t despite several attempts, we have identified exactly where most people go wrong, and we regularly share the results of our research with our students.
Nobody dives this deep when it comes to Judiciary exams, and this information you can’t get anywhere else, even if you are willing to pay for it.
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