- Indian citizens are known to repose tremendous faith in the judiciary, especially the higher judiciary needs no emphasis. The majority of the people consider the higher judiciary as the last resort while seeking relief, justice, and timely adjudication on disputes/litigations. Worryingly, crores of cases pending in different levels of the judiciary have rendered the justice delivery system relatively ineffectual courtesy of long delays. Incessant wait for remedies from the judiciary is bound to make any common man feel frustrated and helpless. As such, there is no dearth of affected citizens – in lakhs – who are not only bound to feel unwanted in the country but also feel miserably let down by the Constitutional bodies failing to come to their aid.
PC: The Dispatch Staff
- No wonder, there are millions of undertrials languishing in jails awaiting their turn to be heard for various reasons. And one of the most often cited reasons for the delay in justice delivery is inadequate judges at the helm to clear mounting cases. This is symptomatic at all levels of the judiciary. We are aware of how the newspapers have extensively reported on the ongoing cold war between the executive and the judiciary concerning the appointments of judges to the higher judiciary. The law ministry and the higher judiciary have issued to-and-fro statements on the matter over the last few weeks highlighting the lacuna in the appointments procedures.
- Now, a recent law ministry presentation on the appointment of high court judges has stirred a hornet’s nest owing to unequal caste representation. The presentation showed that 79% of high court judges appointed between 2018 and 2022 were upper castes which comes as unsurprising, but also unacceptable. Minorities, SCs, and STs comprise 20%, 16%, and 8%, respectively of the population, but form only 2.6%, 2.8%, and 13%, respectively of judges appointed post-2018 were from these groups. Other backward castes too are underrepresented, and women, nearly 50% of the population, made up just 13% of HC judges.
- The CJI had said in November that today’s HC judge composition reflects the situation of 30 years ago. Indeed, there is tremendous diversity in higher education today. All India Survey of Higher Education reveals 53 women per 100 men in LLB courses in 2019-20 from just 44 in 2015-16. Similarly, SCs made up 13% of all LLB enrolment and OBCs 29%, suggesting that the old order has irrevocably changed. One of the many criticisms of the collegium system has stemmed from its indifference to the changing social composition in public institutions. Also, the collegium’s alleged penchant for nepotism, with many of those passing muster being sons, a few daughters, and kin of ex-judges, is seen as blocking the way for unpedigreed others.
- Remember the now-quashed six-member NJAC was to have one of the two eminent members from SC, ST, OBC, women or minorities. Of course, diversity brings collective experiences and viewpoints for the Bench from traditionally non-elitist groups, and improving the quality of justice delivery, and representation inspires social confidence. The time has come for the CJI to walk the talk and prod the SC and HC collegiums into actively looking for diversity in appointments. Adequate representation of all castes would go a long way in addressing the marginal and deprived communities’ ire against the higher judicial appointments.