A Profile of the Supreme Court: Gender, Regional and Religious Diversity
The Supreme Court bench has the highest number of women ever, maximum judges from the Bombay and Delhi High Courts and mostly Hindu judges.
On August 26th, the President issued notifications appointing nine judges to the Supreme Court. With these appointments, the strength of the Supreme Court increases to an unprecedented 33 judges, one short of its current sanctioned strength of 34. Previously, the highest number of judges on the bench was in September 2019, when there were 31 judges.
In this post, we look at the diversity of judges on the new Supreme Court bench.
Gender: Larger Numbers, Shorter Tenures
With three new woman judges, the number of women on the bench will increase to the highest ever at four. However, this will only be 12% of sitting judges. If the convention of seniority is followed, the Supreme Court will have its first woman Chief Justice of India, B.V. Nagarathna in September 2027.
While the number of woman judges has increased, the time they will spend on the bench is low. Justice Hima Kohli will have a short tenure of 3 years and Justice Bela M. Trivedi’s will be 3.75 years. Both of these are below the average tenure of sitting judges which is 5.25 years. Only Justice B.V. Nagarathna’s tenure will be above the average at 6.3 years. However, her tenure as Chief Justice will only be 36 days long.
Notably, many woman judges have historically had tenures of a length below the average.
Region: Bombay, Delhi Most Represented; 11 HCs Not
It has been well documented that the Supreme Court has an ‘unwritten criteria’ to broadly account for regional diversity at the Court. However, this criteria is not absolute. It is often just a factor along with merit and seniority of judges. Accounting for regional diversity originally involved looking at the region a judge came from: the North, South, East or West of the country. More recently, the collegium has looked at the parent High Court. This is the High Court at which the judge was first appointed. While it is uncertain if this criteria applies to advocates directly appointed from the Bar, we have considered the High Court of enrolment.
With the new appointments, the disproportionately high number of judges from the Bombay High Court will now increase from four to five with Oka CJ. Similarly, with Kohli CJ’s appointment, Delhi’s large share has increased to four. Madhya Pradesh, which was previously unrepresented, will get one judge: Maheshwari CJ.
Eleven High Courts find no representation at the Supreme Court. Of these 11, Jammu & Kashmir is particularly notable: until 2010, judges from this High Court were frequently appointed. Of the five High Courts in the North East, only the Gauhati High Court is represented by Justice Hrishikesh Roy.
Religion: One Christian, One Muslim, Rest Hindu
All nine new judges are Hindus, taking the total number of Hindus to 31. Since 1950, there has traditionally been at least one Muslim judge on the Supreme Court which had a sanctioned strength of eight judges at the time. This was a particularly important convention then, since Partition had created an atmosphere of communal distrust. Even now, with 33 judges, there is one Muslim: Justice Abdul Nazeer. One judge is a Christian: Justice K.M. Joseph. Nariman J, who retired on August 12th, was a Zoroastrian.
The recent set of appointments have been noted for being one of the most diverse. However, its effect on the overall diversity at the Court is still minimal.