Nothing can be more important than filling up huge vacancies of judicial officers in trial courts across the country, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while monitoring the progress made by all 24 High Courts and 36 states and UTs.
The apex court on October 22 last year had, on its own, taken note of over 5,000 vacant posts of judicial officers in lower courts and sought information from all the high courts, states and Union Territories (UTs).
Law Secretaries of 29 states and seven UTs and the Registrar Generals (RGs) of 24 High Courts showed up on Tuesday in the crowded courtroom, presided over by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, in pursuance of an earlier order asking them to apprise the top court of the fresh status of processes undertaken by them to fill up the vacancies of judicial officers as on June 30.
Delineating the future course of action to tackle the problem, the bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, said, "Nothing can be more important then this (judicial vacancy). If required, we will deal with this case whole day".
The bench, while summoning the Law Secretaries and RGs of the High Courts, had directed them to "indicate the total strength of each cadre; the number of posts in different cadres actually filled up; the number of posts in each cadre lying vacant; the number of posts in respect of which selection is presently going on and the stage of the said process of selection, and finally, the number of posts in different cadres for which the process of selection is yet to be initiated".
At the outset, the bench took up vacancies of judicial officers in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and the North-Eastern states.
The states and the RGs of High Courts came prepared with the responses to the queries of the apex court on various aspects of appointment of judicial officers and said that they are adhering to the time schedule.
The Chief Justice asked some of the states that they should complete the task ahead of the time schedule.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae, said: "Broadly, the Supreme Court's order passed in the Malik Mazhar Sultan case (on time-line for appointment of judicial officers) has been complied with by the states."
He said wherever there is slight deviation, reasons have been recorded by the states and the High Courts for that in the reports.
On the status of filling up of the posts of Additional District Judges (Higher Judicial Services), Divan said that as against total sanctioned strength of ADJs of 1,437,896 officers are serving and the process to appoint 329 such officers has been finalised and sent to the Uttar Pradesh government for notification.
"When you are going to appoint them. How much time you (UP) need to finally appoint them," the bench asked.
We will have to do police verification. Kindly grant three months time, the state government said.
"Do it within 15 days. We want these appointments should be made within 15 days. Tell your state government that the Supreme wants this," the bench said.
During the day-long hearing, then bench expressed surprise over the fact that some states like UP has more sanctioned strength of ADJs (HJS) then Junior and Senior Civil Judges and contrary was the position in states like Maharashtra where the total posts of lower judicial officers are more than that of ADJs.
The bench expressed surprise over the fact that in Haryana, only nine persons, out of 14,000 law graduates, were selected for the posts of Junior Civil Judges.
"Some universities must have given Law degree to them. You found only nine persons suitable out of 14,000 for the post of civil judge," the bench said.
It also took note of the fact that some of the states could not find suitable candidates from Bar to be directly appointed as Additional District Judges.
The bench took note of the progress made by various states and the High Courts on appointments of judicial officers and in some cases, re-scheduled the time line for the completion.
It requested the high courts to expeditiously take up the the task of filling up of vacancies of judicial officer.
The bench on Wednesday will deal with the vacancies in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Kerala.
Earlier, the apex court had asked the state governments and also the Registrar Generals to inform the Secretary General the position with regard to filling up of the vacancies in the judicial services in each state.
It had termed the extent of vacancies in lower judicairy as "wholly unacceptable" and had sought information from all the 24 high courts on it.
It had said there were 22,036 posts of higher and lower judicial officers in lower courts in the country and, as on date, 5,133 posts are vacant.
In its order, the top court had sought information as to when the process for appointment into "Higher Judicial Service" and "Lower Judicial Service" had been initiated in various states and by which time, the processes would be over.
Referring to an earlier order by which the apex court had fixed the time frame for appointments, it had asked the high courts and the states to provide the information as to whether the time limits have been adhered to or not and the expected time line for completing the recruitment drive.
The top court had appointed senior advocates Shyam Divan, K V Vishwanathan, Vijay Hansaria and lawyer Gaurav Agrawal as amicus curiae and asked them to assist it in dealing with the case.
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