In response to Parliamentary Questions about vacancies in High Courts of the country, the Union Law Ministry has a template reply on these lines,
"Filling up of vacancies in the High Courts is a continuous, integrated and collaborative process between the Executive and the Judiciary. It requires consultation and approval from various Constitutional Authorities both at the State and Centre level. While every effort is made to fill up the existing vacancies expeditiously, vacancies of Judges in High Courts do keep on arising on account of retirement, resignation or elevation of Judges and also due to increase in the strength of Judges."
Given that there are 387 vacant posts in High Courts across the country, one can argue that the efforts being made to fill up the existing vacancies expeditiously leave something to be desired.
In reply to another question last week, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju revealed that 175 proposals are at various stages of processing between the Central government and the Supreme Court Collegium.
Pertinently, recommendations from High Court Collegiums are yet to be received in respect of 230 vacancies.
And with a number of High Court judges slated to retire over the course of this year, the numbers are due to get worse. The vacant posts have even prompted the Bench to bemoan the resultant workload on existing judges. Bombay High Court Chief Justice Dipankar Datta commented in open court last week,
"Please understand predicament of the Bench. How many judges do we have now out of 94? Less than 60. Go back in history and find out if this High Court (has) had so less judges,
In this article, we take a look at five High Courts where the vacancies are on the higher side.
The sanctioned strength of the Punjab & Haryana High Court is 85. The High Court is currently functioning with 49 judges and 36 vacancies, at 56 per cent of its strength.
The sanctioned strength includes 64 permanent and 21 additional judges, out of which 43 and 6 posts are filled respectively. This means that posts of 21 permanent judges and 15 additional judges are lying vacant.
Justice Ajay Tewari, the second seniormost judge of the High Court, resigned on March 15, while Justices Amol Rattan Singh, Fateh Deep Singh and Sant Prakash are set to retire later this year.
In October, 10 additional judges of the High Court were elevated as permanent judges.
Against a sanctioned strength of 72 judges, the High Court is currently functioning with 39, at a vacancy percentage of 46.
The vacancies are for 23 permanent and 10 additional judges.
The Central government had last notified the appointment of judges to the Calcutta High Court in November last year.
The newly appointed judges at the time had included two judicial officers - Bibhas Ranjan De and Ajoy Kumar Mukherjee, and Advocate Krishna Rao.
The Supreme Court Collegium in September 2021 had recommended the appointment of four judicial officers and two advocates - including the new appointees - for elevation as judges of the Calcutta High Court. In the same meeting, it had also reiterated the names of four advocates for appointment as judges.
However, out of these 10 recommendations, only 3 appointments had been approved by the Central government in its November notification.
The 7 recommendations yet to be approved by the government are:
1) Judicial officer Shampa Dutt (Paul)
2) Judicial officer Siddhartha Roy Chowdhury
3) Advocate Koyeli Bhattacharyya
4) Advocate Jaytosh Majumdar
5) Advocate Amitesh Banerjee
6) Advocate Raja Basu Chowdhury
7) Advocate Lapita Banerji
The Patna High Court is functioning with a little over 50 per cent of its sanctioned strength. Against a maximum of 53 judges, it has a working strength of 27.
The vacancies consist of 13 permanent judges and 13 additional judges. There are currently no additional judges at the High Court.
Justices Rajan Gupta and Ashwani Kumar Singh will retire later this year.
The Central government had on March 24 notified the appointment of two lawyers - Advocates Rajiv Roy and Harish Kumar, as judges of the Patna High Court.
The Supreme Court Collegium had in February recommended the name of Advocate Harish Kumar for appointment as a judge in the High Court. It also reiterated two names after the Union Law Ministry returned the files of the 8 names it had recommended in September. The remaining 6 names were elevated in October last year.
The High Court is functioning at only a little over 50 per cent of its sanctioned strength, with 24 vacancies against a total of 50 judges. Chief Justice Akil Kureshi demitted office on March 6.
There are no additional judges in the Rajasthan High Court at present, and 12 permanent judges posts are left to be filled.
The Central government had in October notified the appointment of 5 new judges to the High Court. This was after the Supreme Court Collegium through resolutions issued in September and October that year, recommended 4 judicial officers and 7 advocates for elevation.
The largest chartered High Court in terms of manpower, the Bombay High Court is working at less than two-thirds of its capacity. Against a sanctioned strength of 94 judges, the High Court currently has 57 judges after the recent retirements of Justices SP Tavade and SJ Kathawalla.
37 posts are thus lying vacant - divided into 21 posts for permanent judges and 16 for additional judges.
Nine more judges of the Bombay High Court will attain superannuation in 2022.
The Supreme Court Collegium in January recommended for elevation Advocate Abhay Kumar Ahuja as a judge of the Bombay High Court. Ahuja was among the lawyers recommended for elevation by the Bombay High Court Collegium back in May 2018. In March 2019, the Supreme Court Collegium had deferred the proposal to elevate Ahuja, pending the examination of certain information to be received from the Bombay High Court Chief Justice.
As per media reports, the Union Law Ministry as well as the Supreme Court Collegium disagreed with the manner in which the High Court chose names of 18 advocates for elevation in 2020-21, and returned their files.