Judicial Vacancies in Lower Courts | Day 7: Supreme Court takes note of status report on Delhi’s judicial infrastructureJudicial Vacancies in the Lower Courts
Today, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, and comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra took note of a status report filed by the Acting Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice Manmohan, on Delhi’s judicial infrastructure.
The status report submitted today contained assurances on the floating of tenders and awarding of contracts for the construction of new buildings. It also revealed the extent of the deficiency of residential units for judicial officers.
The status report informed the Supreme Court that the tender for three infrastructure projects will be floated by 26 January 2024 and contracts for construction will be finalised by mid-March 2024.
On October 22nd, 2018, a 2-Judge Bench comprising CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justice S.K. Kaul took suo motu cognisance of the high number of judicial vacancies in the District and Subordinate Courts.
The Bench appointed four amici curiae to assist the Court in monitoring States:
- Shyam Divan, responsible for Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and the North Eastern States.
- KV Vishwanathan, responsible for Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Kerala.
- Vijay Hansaria, responsible for Madhya Pradesh and the High Courts of Madras, Odisha, Patna and Punjab & Haryana.
- Gaurav Agrawal, responsible for Rajasthan, Sikkim, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tripura and Uttarakhand.
In this suo moto exercise, the Court undertook a supervisory role to ensure that the High Courts and State governments fill judicial vacancies in a timely fashion, as defined by Malik Mazhar Sultan. In Malik Mazhar Sultan, the Supreme Court had ordered all States to compose a fixed time schedule for filling judicial vacancies in their State and submit this schedule to the Court.
On the last date of hearing
In the previous hearing, on 11 December, Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, appearing as amicus curiae, submitted that the execution of plans for expanding the judicial infrastructure in Delhi were delayed due to inter-departmental differences in the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD).
In its short Order, the Bench had stated, “We find no reason for the Government of NCTD to keep proposals pending for such an inordinate long period of time.”
The Bench had directed that a meeting be convened on 12 December 2023 presided over by the Acting Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, and attended by the Chief Secretary of the Government of NCTD, Principal Secretaries of Law and Finance, and the secretary in-charge of Public Works Department, Delhi. Justice Rajiv Shakdher of the High Court additionally attended the meeting.
Timelines on tenders and completion
The minutes of the meeting show that Justice Manmohan stressed that the Government of NCTD should immediately sort out all inter-departmental issues, ensure compliance with all formalities, grant administrative approval, and expenditure sanctions in respect of judicial infrastructure projects.
In that meeting, the Chief Secretary assured that all issues concerning Shastri Park, Karkardooma and Rohini Sector 26 projects will be sorted out and administrative approvals and expenditure sanctions will be granted as soon as possible.
The report states that the construction of the Shastri Park and Karkardooma projects is expected to be completed within 18 months from the date of award of the contract. The construction for the Rohini project is expected to be completed within 21 months from the award of the contract.
Responding to the contents of the status report, Divan noted that the plans for some of these projects were finalised in 2019 and 2021. “Someone must place an affidavit confirming that these timelines will be adhered to,” Divan urged the court.
Encroachment at Rouse Avenue Court Complex
A piece of land measuring three acres within the Rouse Avenue Court Complex is under unauthorised occupation by the Central Public Works Department and a political party, the status report notes, without naming the political party.
However, a portion of the said land is lying vacant and can be utilised for the construction of 55 courtrooms, the Chief Secretary stated at the meeting. It was assured that this part of the land would be taken over by the government of NCTD immediately.
The Chief Secretary additionally stated that the matter of land encroachment will be taken up with the Land and Development Office, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs “on priority basis.”
Temporary court buildings
The Government of NCTD informed in the meeting that a vacant building owned by the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) in Sector 6, Rohini could be made available for rent to the Delhi High Court. It was stated that 24 or 25 courtrooms could be housed in that building temporarily.
For temporarily housing courtrooms and other judicial infrastructure, the Chief Secretary also stated that centrally located buildings in Delhi will be made available for rent to the Delhi High Court by January 2024.
It was admitted that the existing residential accommodation for judicial officers in Delhi is “grossly inadequate” even for housing all the serving judicial officers.
Out of the sanctioned strength of 887 judicial officers, the report claimed that there was a deficiency of 529 residential units. With a working strength of 813 judicial officers at present, there is a deficiency of 465 residential units.
It was revealed that the construction of 70 residential units, which commenced in October 2014, was stopped due to “structural defects considered life threatening.” A report highlighting the substandard quality of construction was submitted by the Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee, which studies building science and technology.
The Acting Chief Justice of the High Court informed that the High Court intends to create a centralised record room and digitisation centre to cater to all district courts of Delhi. This facility will be located on a plot of land at Tikri Khurd. The Chief Justice stated that the tender for the plan will be floated by 26 January 2024, with work awarded by mid-March 2024.
Affidavit to be filed
The Supreme Court has directed that an affidavit shall be filed by 31 January 2024 certifying the floating of tenders for Delhi’s judicial infrastructure. The Court also ordered that a follow-up meeting shall be held “on the same lines” as the one on 12 December to discuss the aspects of residential accommodation for judicial officers, recruitment of staff, temporary conversion of existing buildings into courtrooms and the financial outlay needed.