NEW DELHI: Countering the Chief Justice’s constant refrain about lack of judicial infrastructure and manpower as the reason for huge pendency in trial courts, the Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that existing infrastructure is underutilised and nearly 2,000 judicial officers were engaged by the high courts in non-judicial work.
Presenting a status note on the perceived ailments impeding speedy justice, additional solicitor general K M Nataraj told a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant that the working strength of judicial officers has increased from 15,000-odd to over 19,000. “The main reason for worry is that nearly 2,000 judicial officers are engaged in non-judicial work. They should be reverted to judicial work,” he said.
Amicus curiae V D Makhija also informed the court that the centrally sponsored scheme promises Rs 9,000 crore for improvement of judicial infrastructure and residences for judicial officers. Though the scheme has been extended to 2026, there appears to be massive underutilisation of central funds meant for judicial infrastructure, with only Rs 433 crore of the Rs 700 crore allocated so far, she said. Nataraj also said that the judicial infrastructure is underutilised and the residential quarters were more than the number of judicial officers. But, the pendency continues to hover above the Rs 4 crore mark for nearly two years, he said.
The bench asked the registrars general of high courts to respond to the Centre’s claim about underutilisation of judicial infrastructure and diversion of judicial manpower to non-judicial work within four weeks. It also asked the HCs to specify the working strength of judicial officers in their respective states.
The SC asked the law secretaries of state governments to give details of the central funds received since the financial year 2017-18 till 2021-22 and the amount spent by the states on judiciary from the central grants in each of the last four years.
The Centre informed the SC that the sanctioned strength of judicial officers in 2014 was 19,508, while the working strength was 15,115. In 2022, the sanctioned strength has increased to 24,485 and working strength to 19,292, leaving over 5,000 vacancies. With 2,000 judicial officers engaged in non-judicial work, there are only about 17,000 judicial officers manning the courts.
Before adjourning the matter, Justices Chandrachud and Kant told the Centre that judicial officers had to be engaged in HCs and various projects as the concept of ‘court-managers’ had failed miserably.