The Calcutta High Court, on Wednesday, pulled up the Centre for its “step motherly attitude”, and urged it to fill up judicial vacancies to “prevent the system from collapsing”.
“In a democratic polity where the rule of law is dominant, the independence of the judiciary is regarded as a basic structure of the Constitution, right to life and personal liberty is so precious for all and facilitating proper functioning of the High Court is a Constitutional necessity imposing a non-negotiable obligation on all the stakeholders to appoint Judges and thereby fill up vacancies with utmost expedition so that access to justice becomes a reality, rendering a particular High Court ineffective by adopting a stepmotherly attitude cannot but draw the frown of a civilised society. In such grave and ominous situation, this Bench expresses hope and trust that the authorities wielding power would spare a thought for this Court and take immediate ameliorative measures so as to prevent the system from collapsing with the ensuing retirement of 7 (seven) more Judges by early November, 2017 and 3 (three) more by early February, 2018,” it observed in this regard.
The observations were made by a Bench comprising Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Debi Prosad Dey in an anticipatory bail application of a Bengali Film Actor, Bikram Chatterjee. The actor’s bail application had been rendered infructuous as it could not be listed in time by the Court.
The incident invited the ire of the Court on the shortage of Judges by referring it as a “very major problem that the oldest High Court of the country is encountering.”
It noted that the Court was currently functioning that less than 50% of its sanctioned strength, and that if no Judges are appointed by February, 2018, the vacancy would rise to nearly 66%. These vacancies, it said, that substantially increased the burden of judicial and administrative work on the existing Judges. It did not shy away from pointing out the neglect that was being meted out to it at a time when the functional strength of other High Courts has supposedly increased by the day.
Opining that, in the least, the Chief Justice of the Court should be informed of the reasons for stalling of appointments, the Bench observed, “It is axiomatic that dates of retirement of Judges are known to all concerned well in advance. The need to commence the process of appointment of Judges with some degree of urgency so that vacancies caused due to retirement of sitting Judges are filled up simultaneously or soon thereafter, has been emphasized by successive Hon’ble Chief Justices of India and is also inevitably a topic for discussion in any meeting that is convened for exploring ways and means to reduce the mounting arrears. The minutes of such discussions remain on paper, for, seldom are they translated into quick action. It is unfortunate that the requirements of this Court have been neglected over such a long period of time despite everyone concerned being aware of its depleted Judge strength and consequent precarious condition.”
It, however, clarified that appointment of just a few more Judges would not bring any substantial change, and that the situation calls for appointment of maximum number of Judges “to prevent the justice delivery system from collapsing, which seems to be imminent.”
“The fundamental right of access to justice would be a far cry for the people of West Bengal if this impasse were to continue,” it lamented.
The Court, thereafter, ripped the Centre apart for its “brazen apathy and indifference”, and warned that such attitude is “hardly tolerable”. It went on to warn the Centre of “appropriate action”, in case the matter is not looked into by the authorities. The neglect would be “viewed seriously as interference in the course of administration of justice”, it said. The Registrar General was, thereby, directed to do the needful for the observations to reach the Law Minister immediately.