Lok Sabha members on Tuesday, November 7 flagged the high pendency of cases and vacancies in the judiciary even as they urged the government to revisit the collegium system to appoint Supreme Court and high court judges. Participating in a debate to amend two laws for bringing clarity on when SC and HC judges will get enhanced pension on attaining a certain age, some members also said there was a need to increase the retirement age of high court judges and bring it on a par with the retirement age of SC judges. As of now, HC judges retire at 62 years and SC judges at 65 years of age.
Initiating the debate on the High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2021, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor expressed concern over the long pendency of court cases and alleged there were examples of the judiciary's "insensitivities" including the rejection of several applications on the plight of migrant labourers during the COVID-19 period.
He said decisions have been pronounced one after the other which go beyond the question of separation of power between the executive and judiciary. He alleged that there is a concern of executive influence over the judiciary in cases related to abrogation of Article 370.
Pinaki Misra (BJD) said the bill seeks to nullify judgments of two high courts that have been upheld by the Supreme Court. He urged the government to reconsider the move saying it should not be "churlish".
He said the bill on creating a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) should be brought back with certain changes. The law, passed by a massive majority by Parliament, was struck down by the top court. It sought to allow the executive a greater say in judicial appointments.
Former Union minister of state for law and BJP member P P Choudhury urged the government to "revisit" the collegium system to appoint members of the higher judiciary. "I request the government to revisit the collegium system...and the original spirit and object of Article 124 is required to be restored," he said.
Before 1993, when judges were appointed by the executive, one cannot say they delivered poor judgements, he said. Coming in support of the bill, Chaudhary said that remuneration of judges - whether of Supreme Court or High Court - in the country is less than that of the other nations.
The Law Minister, he said, is not accountable to Parliament with respect to the appointment of High Court and Supreme Court judges. "Where we are having parliamentary democracy, all the ministers are accountable. But it is very difficult to hold accountable the law minister because he has no role to play. He has no role to fill the vacancies available in the high courts and the Supreme Court judges," he said.
He also pushed for an All India Judicial Service on the lines of IAS and IPS to appoint judges of subordinate courts.
Dayanidhi Maran (DMK), in an apparent reference to post-retirement jobs, called for having a cooling off period for judges. He said two former chief justices of India were "demoted" - one was appointed as a governor and the other became a Rajya Sabha member.
He said the retirement age of judges should also be increased. He raised the issue of fewer judges being from the Scheduled Caste communities. "Every Indian has got utmost faith in the judicial system. My only request to this government with brute majority is - do not, do not derail it," Maran said.
Raising the issue of pendency, Kalyan Banerjee (Trinamool Congress) stated that justice delayed is justice denied. Across all the courts in India, as on September 15, 2021, 4.5 crore cases were pending, he said. "In the last two years, India has added 23 cases every minute to the pendency list," he said. Collegium, he said, is the administrative act and "I have right to criticise every administrative act."
Geeta Vishwanath of YSR Congress supported the national judicial appointments commission, instead of the collegium system to appoint members of the higher judiciary. Members of the JD(U) and BJD were also critical of the Collegium system.
According to the bill, in 2009 the two laws were amended to provide that every retired judge or after his death, the family, as the case may be, will be entitled to an additional quantum of pension or family pension.
Accordingly, the additional quantum of pension to retired judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court is being sanctioned on completing the age of 80 years, 85 years, 90 years, 95 years and 100 years, as the case may be.
However, in a writ petition filed by a retired high court judge, the Gauhati High Court had held that benefit of the additional quantum of pension as per the High Court Judges Act would be available to a retired Judge from the first day of his 80th year.
Subsequently, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh also directed respondent Union of India to construe the word 'from' as it appears on the slab as the first day of entering the minimum age of the slab -- 80,85,90,95 and 100 years -- along with other consequential benefits to the petitioners," the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the bill reads.
The legislative intent behind the insertion of section 17B and section 16B respectively in the two Acts was to provide the benefit of additional quantum of pension to a retired judge from the first day of the month in which he completes the age specified in the first column of the scale and not from the first day of his entering the age specified therein as so interpreted by the high courts, it said.