The Help in tackling the backlog of cases could radically improve executive-judiciary relations
importance of cooperation between the executive and the judiciary in dealing with the unacceptably high number of pending cases in the country cannot be overemphasised. For over a year, there were indications of an impasse over judicial appointments between the two branches of the state, mainly after the Supreme Court struck down legislation to establish a National Judicial Appointments Commission. That phase appears to be coming to an end. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance to the Chief Justice of India, J.S. Khehar, that his government would contribute its share in reducing the judiciary’s burden is a positive gesture that will be welcomed by the legal fraternity. Speaking at a function to mark the 150th anniversary of the Allahabad High Court, Mr. Modi gave the assurance after observing the pain behind the words of Justice Khehar over the increasing backlog of cases. Justice Khehar’s “dil ki baat (talk from the heart)” on the problem underscored an institutional anguish that has gripped the judiciary over time. Successive Chief Justices have brought to the government’s notice the state of affairs with regard to both the alarming docket situation and the chronic shortage of judicial hands in the superior and subordinate judiciary. The previous Chief Justice of India, T.S. Thakur, had highlighted the point in public functions as well as during judicial hearings, once even wondering if the government wanted to bring the judiciary to a grinding halt by its reluctance to fill up vacancies. If the Prime Minister’s latest remarks represent a fresh resolve not to let such an impression gain ground, it will surely represent a new beginning in the executive-judiciary relationship.
Mr. Modi did not spell out whether his assurance to contribute to the process meant his government would expedite the process of appointing judges, but there is no doubt that this will be the most significant contribution as well as the government’s responsibility. Official figures show there are as many as 437 vacancies in the High Courts alone as of March 1, 2017. It is incontestable that any effort to liquidate the arrears of cases would involve a significant increase in the speed at which judicial appointments are processed. Mr. Modi also spoke of the use of technology and digitalisation in the judicial system, a point that is of undoubted relevance when one considers the magnitude of the task of reducing the backlog. There is much that the use of technology can do in both liquidating arrears and expediting processes such as filing of documents and serving of notices. Meanwhile, reports suggest that the government and the Supreme Court Collegium may be close to agreeing on a new Memorandum of Procedure for judicial appointments. If differences that caused a prolonged stand-off are eliminated and a new procedure agreed upon, there cannot be better tidings for the institution.