The current sanctioned strength of the subordinate judiciary is 20,214 judges while that of the 24 High Courts (HCs) is 1,056 and the pendency of cases has remained abnormally high at 31 million. India faces around 25% deficit of judges across all courts.
On the sanctioned strength, there are 4,600 vacancies of judges in the subordinate judiciary which is more than 23% of the strength. The situation in the HCs is worse with almost 44% (462) judges' posts vacant. The Supreme Court (SC) too has six vacancies on a sanctioned strength of 31.
Importantly, during late 80’s, the strength of the judiciary was 7,675 judges, or 10.5 judges per million people. This was for the first time that the law commission had drawn a blueprint of the manpower required in the judiciary. Presently, the judge-population ratio (sanctioned strength) has since increased to 17 judges per million but the vacancies have surpassed the 5,000 mark and so have the backlogs.
The appointments to various judiciary chief post have been held up following a standoff between the apex court collegiums and the government over the finalization of the memorandum of procedure for selection of judges.
To address backlogs in justice delivery, the 120th report of the law panel had proposed to increase the strength to 50 judges per million people — still way less than the US where the judge-population ratio is over 105.
The 20th law commission study found at the current rate of disposal, HCs require an additional 56 judges to break even and an additional 942 judges to clear the backlog.
According to an analysis by former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, based on data obtained from Supreme Court reports, “cases decided over a five-year period—between 2009 and 2013—in India’s district and subordinate courts–would have increased by 25%, if all judicial positions were filled”.