Collegium System To Be Replaced by National Judicial Appointments Commission
The government of India attempts to nag the Supreme Court (SC) by reconsidering a ‘new system’ similar to the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) against the backdrop of mounting pendency of cases in courts at record level. This came after Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju in Rajya Sabha referring to the Supreme Court’s collegium system of appointments to the higher judiciary responded to questions related to pendency in courts. Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar and Rijiju questioned the Judiciary striking down the NJAC in 2015. However, the Court pushed back saying the Collegium must stay.
There are nearly 5 crore pending cases in the country having reached 4.90 crore. As of December 12, 2022, the Supreme Court, High Courts, district, and subordinate courts had a sanctioned strength of 25,011 and a working strength of 19,192. To the Supreme Court, 46 judges had been appointed between May 1, 2014, and December 5, 2022. According to the Supreme Court's own website, there were 69,598 cases outstanding there as of December 1, 2022, and 59.56 lakh cases were pending in High Courts. At this time, the government's ability to decrease vacancies is quite limited.
Among the top courts in the world, the Indian Supreme Court works the most and has the most cases. The US Supreme Court, in comparison, handles between 100 and 150 cases annually and meets for oral arguments five days per month. High Courts and Courts of Appeals in the UK meet approximately 185–190 days a year. Throughout the course of the year, the Supreme Court of India holds four sessions that last around 250 days each. With 34 judges, the Indian Supreme Court is in first place in terms of the quantity of judgements handed out.
Back in August 2014, nearly all parties clubbed together in both Houses in Parliament and more than half of states including those led by the Congress and the Left, unanimously ratified laws to bring in the NJAC to replace the Collegium system of appointment of judges to the higher courts. But the amendment was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015 on the ground that it was unconstitutional, stating that it undercut the independence of the judiciary by giving the government final say on the appointments.
Evidently, Since then, the government has not accepted the court’s decision with a good grace. It didn’t even take pain to file a review petition or a curative petition either. It is quite translucent that the government is grabbing the opportunity to hark back to the issue to leverage the benefit of doubts. The SC has given a wrong impression by pushing itself back which allowed the government to corner the judiciary. However, it would be wrong to say that the NJAC has manifold flaws. The procedural design is part of a larger problem. The NJAC didn’t respect the critical imperative to protect and strengthen the independence of the judiciary.
The judiciary, which is the centerpiece of the constitutional balance, must be able to act with full independence. It is intriguing that the opposition which joined together to pass the NJAC is now reconsidering it. The opposition, the government and the judiciary must devise a mechanism to strike a balance. A systematic endeavor must be taken up to reduce pendency of cases. PM Modi must convene all party meetings to get away all weaknesses and step forward a robust system to effectively redeem the plight of pendency of cases in courts.