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Modi government sitting on 170 high court judges' appointment, lack of judicial reforms: Prashant Bhushan

By Our Representative
Top Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan has sharply criticized the Government of India (GoI) for sitting on 170 recommendations by the Supreme Court collegium for appointments to High Courts over last two months, saying this has come about after the Supreme Court struck down the GoI’s wanting to have a National Judicial Appointments Commission.
Pointing towards the recent “anguish” by India’s chief justice TS Thakur over lack of “greater government participation”, Bhushan, who is convener of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) said, the Chief Justice’s speech revealed that the “efficient functioning of the judiciary rested on steady and regular appointments, which were being stalled by the government’s inaction in clearing appointments.
The chief justice, while addressing recent joint conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts and the Supreme Court two days ago, had said though the Law Commission had, in 1987, recommended a five-fold increase in the total strength of judges, to roughly 50 judges per million population, the strength of the judges has hardly been increased since then.
This, according to Thakur, had led to a situation where three crore cases are pending in lower courts, several lakh in High Courts and thousands in the Supreme Court. Even then the Central and State governments have been passing the buck.
“With the government and judiciary at loggerheads, and a completely opaque system of appointments to the higher judiciary, there is little scope for improvement in the present system which is shrouded in secrecy”, Bhushan said in a statement on behalf of the CJAR.
Criticizing the GoI for running “an opaque, secretive and arbitrary system of appointment and transfers”, which is giving rise to “nepotistic considerations”, Bhushan said, “With no criterion laid down for selecting judges and no methodical or objective evaluation of proposed appointees on any criteria, the system will continue to suffer from inefficiencies”, he added.
Recalling that CJAR had written to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in March this year requesting for a public consultation on the new Memorandum of Procedure being drafted for Supreme Court and High Court appointments, Bhushan said, CJAR even sent a draft memorandum “which includes various sub clauses that will ensure transparency.”
The draft memorandum contains, among other things, “provisions for the appointment of not only the most meritorious and but also of those persons who are in tune with the egalitarian constitutional philosophy and who have some sensitivity and understanding of the problems of the common people of the country.”
Pointing towards how “a vast majority of citizens cannot afford lawyers”, Bhushan said, an accused therefore remains at “the mercy of the police and the judiciary.” He added, “That is why about 50% of the people who have been granted bail cannot avail of the bail because of a lack of knowledge regarding bail or not having sufficient funds or someone to stand as a guarantor.”
Regretting that the Gram Nyayalaya Bill, envisaging setting up informal courts at the local level where people could access courts for ordinary disputes without lawyers has been abandoned, Bhushan said, “The impassioned appeal by the chief justice “should be taken as a wakeup call for the government” to have judicial reforms in various aspects of the functioning of the judiciary, including “appointments, transfers, infrastructure development and others.”

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