Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit’s days as top judge supports the argument in favour of short, meaningful tenures for Chief Justices of India. His 74-day tenure, which would end on November 8, has so far shown that it is the quality of time that matters.
Within a month of Justice Lalit taking office as CJI on August 27, five Constitution Benches were formed. The CJI has propelled sweeping administrative changes, especially transparent and prompt listing of cases. September saw the court divide its judicial time between long-pending regular cases and public interest petitions. The month-end has seen a drop in backlog.
But the frenetic pace of daily work — almost 60 to 70 cases listed before every Bench — has raised questions whether judges are able to cope with the work pressure. A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud sat till 9.15 p.m. recently to finish its board of cases for the day. Lawyers have been seen seeking more time to prepare their briefs as their cases were listed suddenly. Recent days have also seen a difference of opinion within the Collegium.
Chief Justice Lalit had assured that there would be at least one Constitution Bench presiding in court everyday. The court’s formation of Constitution Benches had almost come to a stop during the pandemic days.
September saw the first five senior-most judges of the court preside over Constitution Benches. One Constitution Bench led by Justice Indira Banerjee delivered a judgment while verdicts were reserved in other Constitution Bench cases.
The Constitution Benches have taken up sensitive issues like the legality of the Citizenship Amendment Act, increasing the compensation to Bhopal gas tragedy victims, validity of the demonetisation policy, the constitutionality of the economically weaker sections quota, protection of Jallikattu as a cultural right, the Maharashtra political crisis, the dispute between the Delhi government and the Lieutenant Governor over the control of the civil services in the capital, the declaration of Muslims as a socially and educationally backward community, the setting up of regional Benches of the Supreme Court, a challenge to polygamy and the Bohra community’s right to excommunicate dissidents, among others.
There has been a visible decline in pendency from 70,310 cases as on September 1 to 69,461 cases on October 1. The number of pending Constitution Bench cases have thinned from 493 on September 1 to 488 on October 1.
Major decisions are taken now in the Supreme Court after Full Court meetings, where all the judges get an opportunity to voice their opinion. One of the significant decisions taken during a Full Court meeting has been the live-streaming of Constitution Bench hearings.
Chief Justice Lalit has ensured that all 15 Benches of the court hear cases.
The Lalit Collegium’s recommendation of the elevation of Bombay High Court Chief Justice Dipankar Datta as Supreme Court judge is as per the seniority norm. Justice Datta is one of the senior-most High Court Chief Justices. His tenure as High Court judge extends till 2027. He would have a substantial tenure if the government appoints him as a Supreme Court judge.