Against the backdrop of nearly 60,000 pending cases in the Supreme Court, a bill to increase the number of judges in the top court from 30 to 33 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday. As of now, the Supreme Court has a sanctioned strength of 30 judges, plus the chief justice of India -- 31 judges.
Once the bill gets Parliamentary approval, its sanctioned strength will go up to 33, plus the CJI, according to the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill introduced by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. The apex court is functioning with its full strength.
The bill comes days after Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to increase the number of Supreme Court judges. Due to paucity of judges, the required number of constitution benches to decide important cases involving questions of law were not being formed, the CJI said.
"You would recall that way back in 1988, about three decades ago, the judge strength of the SC was increased from 18 to 26, and then again after two decades in 2009, it was increased to 31, including the CJI, to expedite disposal of cases to keep pace with the rate of institution," he wrote. "I request you to kindly consider, on top priority, to augment the judge strength in the SC appropriately so that it can function more efficiently and effectively as it will go a long way to attain the ultimate goal of rendering timely justice to the litigant public," Gogoi wrote.
The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 was last amended in 2009 to increase the judges strength from 25 to 30 (excluding the CJI). The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 originally provided for a maximum of 10 judges (excluding the CJI).
This number was increased to 13 by the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 1960, and to 17 in 1977. The working strength of the Supreme Court was, however, restricted to 15 judges by the cabinet (excluding the chief Justice of India) till the end of 1979.
But the restriction was withdrawn at the request of the chief justice of India. In 1986, the strength of the top court was increased to 25, excluding the CJI. Subsequently, the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 2009 further augmented the strength of the court from 25 to 30.
According to the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, the pendency of cases in the Supreme Court has constantly been on the rise due to comparatively higher rate of institution of cases. As on the June 1, there were 58,669 cases pending in the Supreme Court.
"...It is not possible for the Chief Justice of India to constitute five Judges Bench on a regular basis to hear cases involving substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution as it would result in constitution of less number of Division Benches which would lead to delay in hearing of other civil and criminal matters," the bill read. The feeder cadre of chief justices and judges of the high courts have increased from 906 to 1,079 and new HCs have also been established in the previous years.
"This has led to increase in the disposal of cases at the high court level leading to larger number of appeals to the Supreme Court," the bill said. A Raja (DMK) said there is little representation of women and minorities in the judiciary.
Supporting the bill, Kalyan Banerjee (TMC) highlighted the pendency of 3.34 litigations in the country. He said 43 lakh are pending in the High Courts. He demanded that the strength of the subordinate and High Court judges be increased. He said the age cap of 45 years be removed while appointing judges from the bar to attract younger talent.
Banerjee said to ensure independence of judiciary, judges should not be appointed to any position post retirement. Pinaki Misra (BJD) said the bill is the crying need of the hour. He also demanded setting up of the All India Judical service to appoint judges and judicial officers in lower courts..
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