New Delhi, June 23: The government of India has reservations about Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi’s proposal that the retirement age of high court judges be raised from 62 years to 65 years to deal with the growing number of vacancies and pendency of cases in high courts.
A senior government official on condition of anonymity said the issue has larger repercussions. “Why should the retirement age of only high court judges be increased? Tomorrow, there will be a demand by Supreme Court judges, or members of the lower judiciary or constitutional authorities. Why should they be left out? If someone is healthy at 65 because of improved health care, it will apply to all,” the official said.
“There is a disconnect between the judiciary and executive on the issue of appointments. Not too long back, the Supreme Court Collegium had made a recommendation of 40 judges to a high court, of them 20 were rejected by the government. What does it show? The screening method for appointment of judges is poor and the Collegium is slow in making recommendations in anticipation of vacancies that will arise.”
Besides, in the next six months, over 40 judges will be retiring from various high courts and one from the Supreme Court, deepening the vacancy crisis. Recently, CJI Gogoi wrote a series of letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing concern at the rising number of vacancies and pendency of cases in the high courts.
In one letter, Gogoi highlighted the need to increase the retirement age of high court judges from 62 years to 65 years.
“One of the prime reasons why we are not able to contain the ever-growing pendency is shortage of high court judges. At present, 399 posts, or 37% of the sanctioned judge-strength, are vacant. The existing vacancies need to be filled immediately. However, despite best efforts put in by all stakeholders, it has not been possible to appoint judges to bring the working judge-strength anywhere close to the sanctioned judge-strength,” Gogoi wrote.
“In the present scenario, it is my considered view that the retirement age of HC judges should be raised by three years, This, in turn, would help in improving the vacancy position and consequently reducing pendency of cases. This would also be in consonance with the (repeated) recommendations made by parliamentary standing committees,” the letter said.
According to data put out on government website, the shortfall of judges in the country’s 25 high courts is acute. The sanctioned judge-strength is 1,079. There is a shortage of 399 judges.
An effort to increase the retirement age of high court judges from 62 to 65 years was made by the government in 2010, by way of the 114th constitutional amendment bill. But the parliamentary standing committee that studied the bill was of the view that increasing the retirement age of judges was not a solution to the problem of delayed appointment of judges in the high courts.
It then noted, “…when the procedures for appointment of judges have not been successful enough in timely filling-up of the vacancies, the Committee acknowledges that the proposed amendment would provide the much needed relief as enhancement of the age of retirement of High Court Judges would at least check further increase in the number of vacancies. The Committee, however, does not see the enhancement of age of retirement as a solution to delayed appointment of High Court Judges. The Committee, accordingly, recommends that the process of filling up of the existing vacancies may be expedited by all means.”