The Supreme Court welcomed three new judges on Thursday, taking the judicial strength to its sanctioned capacity of 34, even as the pendency clock on the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) dashboard threatens to hit a high of 80,000 cases in the next 24 hours.
Delhi High Court Chief Justice Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Rajasthan and Gauhati Chief Justices Augustine George Masih and Sandeep Mehta were sworn in as Supreme Court judges within three days of the apex court Collegium recommending them, even as October alone saw the filing of nearly 5,000 cases.
The November 6 Collegium recommendation highlighted the perennial pendency and said it intended to tackle the backlog of the court, which bobbed up and down the 70,000 mark in 2022 following the pandemic, despite administrative and institutional changes, by getting rid of the problem of judicial vacancies.
“In view of the ever mounting pendency of cases, the workload of judges has increased considerably. Bearing in mind the above, it has become necessary to ensure that the court has full working judge strength leaving no vacancy at any point of time,” the Supreme Court Collegium had observed in its resolution on November 6.
According to the NJDG dashboard available on the apex court website, the total pendency in the Supreme Court as of November 9 evening is ticking at 79,717 registered and unregistered cases. Of these, 24,834 cases are less than a year old. Total cases instituted in October is 4,915 while 4,454 were disposed of in the same month. The year 2023 has so far seen 47,135 cases instituted and 46,193 disposed of.
Completes a year
Chief Justice Chandrachud inherited 69,647 cases on November 9, 2022 when he took office as top judge. The swearing-in of the three judges and the court reaching its full judicial strength coincides with Chief Justice Chandrachud completing a year as the Chief Justice of India. He retires on November 10, 2024. A statement issued by the Supreme Court on the occasion of Chief Justice Chandrachud’s one-year anniversary said the year had seen “unusually heavy filing” but maintained pendency had “not increased much”.
The Supreme Court will function with 34 judges until Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, the number two judge of the apex court who has been vocal about the government’s “delaying tactics and pick-and-choose policy” while making judicial appointments, retires on December 25, 2023.
In fact, the speedy appointment of the three judges by the government has come within two days of Justice Kaul, whose Bench is hearing a case on government delays in judicial appointment process, reminded Attorney General R. Venkataramani, appearing for the Centre, about the November 6 Collegium recommendation of their names.
The choice of their names showed the Collegium had paid due regard to both merit and seniority.
Justice Sharma, whose parent High Court is Madhya Pradesh, is second in the combined all India seniority of High Court judges.
Justice Masih, whose parent High Court is Punjab and Haryana, stands at number seven in the seniority list of High Court judges. He also belongs to a minority community.
Justice Mehta’s parent High Court is Rajasthan. Though Justice Mehta is 23rd in the all-India High Court judges seniority list, he is the senior-most judge from Rajasthan. The Collegium reasoned that Rajasthan does not have representation on the Bench of the Supreme Court.