The Supreme Court today took note of over 5,000 vacant posts of judicial officers in lower courts across the country and sought information from all the 24 high courts as also states, terming the extent of vacancies as "wholly unacceptable".
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi exercised the extra-ordinary powers of the top court under Article 142 (power of the Supreme Court to seek enforcement of its orders) under the Constitution and directed all the 24 high courts and 36 states and Union Territories to apprise it of issues like vacancies and the time frame within which they can be filled up.
The bench, also comprising Justice S K Kaul, considered the communication between the apex court's registry and registries of all the high courts. It said there were 22,036 posts of higher and lower judicial officers in lower courts in the country and, as on date, 5,133 posts are vacant.
"The information collected by the Registry of this court from the Registries of different High Courts indicates that recruitment process/processes to fill up 4,180 posts are presently underway and the said recruitment processes are poised at different stages in different states," it said, adding that the information also indicated that recruitment processes have not started to fill up 1,324 posts.
"The existence of vacancies to the extent indicated is wholly unacceptable. The Registry of this Court is, therefore, directed to register a suo motu writ petition," the bench said.
In its order, the top court has sought information as to when the process for appointment into "Higher Judicial Service" and "Lower Judicial Service" had been initiated in various states and by which time, the processes would be over.
Referring to an earlier order by which the top court had fixed the time frame for appointments, it has asked the high courts and the states to provide the information as to whether the time limits have been adhered to or not and the expected time line for completing the recruitment drive.
"If the time taken has exceeded the Schedule fixed by this Court the reasons therefore be furnished by the Registries of such High Courts/concerned authorities of the state where the recruitment is done through the Public Service Commission(s) which are in default," it ordered.
It has also asked states and the high courts whether the time expected to be taken to complete the on-going process can be "shortened" and said the time-schedule spelt out in the earlier order for filling up the vacancies would be understood to be "indicating the outer time limit and not the minimum period for completion".
"Whether the infrastructure and man-power available in the different states is adequate if all the posts that are borne in the cadre are to be filled up," the court asked, adding that these information be made available to the Secretary General of the apex court on or before October 31 and listed the matter for hearing a day after.
The top court appointed senior advocates Shyam Divan, KV Vishwanathan, Vijay Hansaria and lawyer Gaurav Agrawal as amicus curiae and asked them to assist it in dealing with the case.
Shyam Divan would deal the vacancies and the processes needed to fill them up in states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and the North-Eastern states.
While KV Vishwanathan would assist the top court in dealing with the vacancies in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Kerala, Hansaria would deal with Madhya Pradesh, Madras, Odisha, Patna and Punjab and Haryana.
Gaurav Agrawal would render assistance to the top court in dealing with the issue of vacancies in states of Rajasthan, Sikkim, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tripura and Uttarakhand.