It is most reassuring, refreshing and reconsoling to note that for the first time in at least my memory have I ever noticed a Chief Justice of India who even before assuming office outlined his priorities very clearly and courageously – to fill up judicial vacancies especially in lower courts which are at an all time high and also in the high courts and even the Supreme Court and to ensure that justice is accessible to the poor, needy and deprived! We have seen for ourselves how many decades are consumed in deciding a very small petty case what to talk about complex cases like the one of Ayodhya which has been lingering since last more than 65 years! This must now come to an end and CJI Ranjan Gogoi appears fully committed to ensure this!
To be sure, the Supreme Court on November 1 cautioned the States and the High Courts that it will resort to a “centralised selection mechanism” if they do not act promptly to fill the over 5,000 judicial posts lying vacant in the lower judiciary. The Apex Court did not pull back punches in reprimanding the States and also the High Courts for their inefficiency in filling the vacancies in the subordinate judiciary which is staggering at an all time high! It is a national shame that it takes many decades for cases to be decided even in lower courts and despite all this, the judicial vacancies are not filled up and it takes many months for the results of Preliminary exams to come and when it does come then another few months are consumed in conducting Mains and then months in interview and then again a lot of time in declaring the final merit list! Even after the final merit list is declared, it still takes a lot of time for successful candidates to ultimately join! This is especially true in big states like UP which has maximum pending cases and where maximum judges vacancies arise every year!
Not just this, what is noticed is that some High Courts even attach minimum marks with interview for qualifying even though Supreme Court in Himani Malhotra v NCT (State of Delhi) and in other cases also clearly held that there would be no minimum marks for interview as it is whimsical, arbitrary and subject to the whhims and fancies of a single individual! Even vacancies are not notified for many years as we saw in Delhi where no vacancy was notified for HJS from 2010-2013 and in some other states like Haryana, Rajasthan etc the situation was much worse! Worst of all, arbitrary conditions are attached like candidate desiring to appear in exam must have minimum salary of few lakhs in a year as we saw in Haryana from 2014 onwards which deprives those bright lawyers from appearing in exam just because they don’t earn in few lakhs which under no circumstances can ever be justified because money can be no criteria for appearing in an exam for judge! Even eminent lawyers like KTS Tulsi did not get cases for initital few years in Supreme Court so was he not treated as lawyer and how can this be a handicap for barring him to appear in an exam for becoming Judge? By the way, money minded lawyers never want to become judge with few exceptions because for them money is first and top priority and as a Judge their salary is very miniscule when compared to their salary as a lawyer where they can mint money as much as they like by dint of their expertise and skills! This must all end and this is exactly what the CJI wants and very rightly so!
Bluntly put, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and also comprising Justice UU Lalit and Justice KM Joseph lambasted the High Courts and the States for not doing enough to fill up judicial vacancies in the lower judiciary both in the PCS and HJS! They held that, “We are telling all high courts and states that we are keeping you under constant gaze. If you cannot fill vacancies, then we will take over and have a centralised exam. We want our judges to be in place.”
As it turned out, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi rebuked the states and high courts for not filling up vacancies. The CJI minced no words in putting across his firm and blunt message by observing that, “Our gaze is on all states. If the vacancies cannot be filled by you, we will take over and do what is needed….There are hordes of applications by candidates who are deserving and what are you doing? Nothing was initiated to address the issue till we began monitoring! Our recurring queries have also not yielded any definite replies!”
What is even more disquieting to note is that even Centre itself is not happy with all this! The Centre has proposed a centralised examination to fill them up, pointing to a staggering 2,76,74,499 cases pending in subordinate courts! Statistics reveal that there are 5,223 vacancies in trial courts! Why still have states and high courts miserably failed in filling up vacancies in time and in ensuring that results are declared in time and soon fresh vacancies are notified? Why was there no sense of urgency? With what face will now they accuse Centre of meddling in their domain when they have just not ensured the filling up of judicial vacancies in time? What is the point in now opposing the suggestion?
As things stand, the situation in Delhi and Haryana was discussed as an example. It was pointed out by the Bench that Delhi had taken at least a year to fill up just 200 vacancies! Pulling up the Delhi High Court, the CJI said that, “It is taking over a year to complete the selection and recruitment when the number of posts is only 200. This casual attitude is not justified!”
As if this was not enough, in Haryana, the Bench revealed that the examination held in 2015 for filling up 60 posts of Judges was announced and 19,000 law graduates applied but it was cancelled and the fresh advertisement issued in 2018 attracted a huge rush with 13,000 more candidates applying which understandably led to collapse of the official website on the last date of application. No wonder, CJI Ranjan Gogoi was constrained to remark that, “All high courts and public service commissions (agency that holds exams) have been very casual.” All High Courts and Public Service Commissisons which is the agency that holds exams must seriously do a lot of self-introspection because it is none other than the CJI and 2 Judges of the Apex Court also along with him who have come to this unpalatable conclusion which is a stark reality and cannot be bruhed away lightly!
Not stopping here, CJI added that nothing was initiated to address the issue till the Supreme Court began monitoring it on the administartive side. Even then, he rued, recurring queries have not yielded any definite replies! Both States and high Courts have a lot of explaining to do on this count!
It may be recalled that it was on October 22 that the Bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi took up the matter on its own volition under Article 142 of the Constitution and ordered all state governments and High Courts to update it on the status of recruitment of lower court Judges and whether the timeline for selection as laid down by the top court in a 2006 verdict by a Bench headed by the then CJI YK Sabharwal in April 2006 in the Malik Mazhar Sultan case was being followed. As per the order, appointment of new Judges to subordinate courts has to be completed in nine months. The vacancies must be notified by March 31 and they must be filled up by October 31!
Be it noted, passing a suo motu order in the wake of the alarming number of vacancies for the post of Judges in the subordinate judiciary across the country, CJI Gogoi had required all the High Courts to relay to the registry of the Apex Court the following information by October 31 –
· The dates on which the recruitment processes for lower and higher judicial services have been initiated and are expected to be completed;
· Whether the time taken or likely to be taken is beyond the schedule prescribed by this court in Malik Mazhar Sultan v. UP Public Service Commission (2006). If yes, the reasons be furnished by the concerned registries;
· Whether time expected to be taken to complete the ongoing process can be shortened to comply with the guidelines in Malik Mazhar which the court undertstands to be prescribing the outer time limit and not the minimum period;
· The number of vacancies which have occurred in respect of the civil judge and the higher judicial services cadre since the date of issuance of advertisement of vacancies till the date on which the processes are expected to be completed;
· Whether the infrastructure and manpower in different states are adequate if all posts which are borne in a cadre are to be filled up.
It would be imperative to mention here that deciding to examine the status in batches, the Bench summoned in person the Registrar General and authorized representatives of the Chief Secretaries of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and the North-Eastern states on November 15 to be present for fast forwarding recruitment process. It would certainly not be an exaggeration to conclude that this is the most historic and commendable step taken by the CJI for which the whole nation must stand indebted to him instead of targeting him for not focusing on issues which in his opinion are not as important as this! The Bench of Apex Court headed by CJI has also asked the Registrars General of the concerned High Courts, the Secretaries of the State Public Service Commissions as well as the Authorized Officer(s) of the States concerned to interact with senior and eminent lawyer Shri Shyam Divan who is Amicus Curiae in this vital case to present the result/position before the Court in as precise a manner as possible!
Needless to say, if what has been commendably and courageously undertaken by CJI to fill up all judicial vacancies in the lower courts in next nine months is undertaken expeditiously, it would be the biggest revolution in judiciary ever witnessed till now and it will certainly witness the huge pending cases coming down considerably! Who will not like this to happen? Only those who place vested interests above national interets! Not even a single Judge post should ever be vacant under any circumstances just like the post of MP and MLAs are never kept vacant and immediately bye elections are held whenever the seat becomes vacant due to any reason like death of sitting MP or MLA etc! With CJI Ranjan Gogoi at the helm of affairs we all have every reason to be pretty confident that the filling up of all vacancies in lower courts will no longer be a mirage or utopia and will certainly translate into palatable reality by expeditiously filling up the vacancies for which the CJI undoubtedly deserves full credit as it is his firm resolve and firm commitment that he right from the day he assumed office has demonstrated that he means action and will not tolerate status quo of any kind as long as he is the CJI! Very rightly so!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.