For the best experience, open
on your mobile browser or Download our App.

Vacancies, Representation and Toilets: What Ails India's Judiciary?

The Supreme Court’s Centre for Research and Planning, in a one-of-a-kind report, has looked at some of the most crucial reasons contributing to pendencies.
Representative image. Photo: Blogtrepreneur/Flickr CC BY 2.0 DEED

Mumbai: The Indian judiciary has, for a long time, faced the challenge of pendency.

It is not uncommon to find pretrial detainees having to wait for over a decade to just have their cases heard before a trial court or a senior citizen fighting a property dispute for 30 or 40 years in a civil court. These agonising delays can be attributed to a series of reasons. The Supreme Court’s Centre for Research and Planning, in a one-of-a-kind report, has looked at some of the most crucial ones among them.

The report, titled ‘State of the Judiciary,’ closely looks at issues of vacancy, lack of diversity in the judiciary, lack of infrastructure for both judges and litigants, and the sub-optimal working conditions of court staff, among others.   

As on October 2023, the report points out that there are over five crore pending cases across all higher and subordinate courts in India. To handle them, however, there are only 20,580 judges working in the Supreme Court, the high courts and district courts. 

The data (as on October 1, 2023) reveals that as against the sanctioned strength of 1,114 judges in the high courts across the country, as many as 347 positions are vacant.

Similarly, in the district judiciary, out of the total sanctioned strength of 25,081 judges, as of April 2023, the working strength was only 19,781. As many as 5,300 district judges’ positions are vacant. 

What has been done

To clear this mounting pendency, over the years, several methods to compute the requisite strength of judges in the district judiciary has been formulated. In 1987, the Law Commission of India, in its report on ‘Manpower Planning in Judiciary: A Blueprint’ recommended the use of the ratio of judges’ strength per million population as the criterion to plan the judicial staffing.

The report stated that:

“If legislative representation can be worked out, as pointed out earlier, on the basis of population and if other services of the State – bureaucracy, police etc. – can also be similarly planned, there is no reason at all for the non-extension of this principle to the judicial services.”

The demographic method, which is a most common method, suggested an increase in the ratio of 10 judges per million people to 50 judges per million people. This was endorsed later by the Supreme Court in in 2002 in the All India Judges Association v. Union of India case. 

Similarly, the Law Commission of India, in 2014, suggested the Disposal Method. It recommended that the total number of judges required to cut down the pendency can be calculated by computing the number of judges required to clear the existing backlog and the new filings of cases, based on the average disposal of cases per judge.

From time to time, newer suggestions to overcome pendency have been given by different committees. 

From the date of notification of number of vacancies by the high court to the actual date of joining, the process – as prescribed in the Malik Mazhar judgment – should take about 273 days.

The recent Supreme Court study, however, has found that only nine states adhere to the timeline.

Bihar, for instance, took 945 days to complete the last recruitment process of Civil Judge (Junior Division), computed from the date of advertisement (March 9, 2020) to the date of final result (October 10, 2022). This delay, the high court of Patna attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the report points to similar delay even before the pandemic. The recruitment process of 2018-19 in Bihar took 463 days. 

The apex court’s report has identified litigation (candidates challenging different stages of the examination) and different recruitment authority as the primary cause for the delay. 


In a pluralistic democracy like India, where there is vast social, geographical and religious diversity, a representative and inclusive judiciary is imperative to repose faith in the public in the justice system. The report analyses the representation of female judges in the Supreme Court, high court and district courts. Alongside gender, the report also examines the representation of those from the marginalised sections in the district judiciary.

Also read: ‘Harassment’, Pleas and a Petition Dismissed in 8 Seconds: Behind Woman Civil Judge’s Letter to CJI

Although there are no provisions for reservation on the basis of caste, class or gender in the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the high courts (which are made under Articles 124 and 217 of the Constitution of India respectively), the Supreme Court Collegium has clearly laid down ‘diversity’ as one of the factors to consider in appointing judges to the apex court. The diversity consideration in itself has not yielded the desired result in the higher judiciary.

Here are some important figures.

India’s highest court presently has only three female judges (9.3%) out of its working strength of 32 judges, as of October 1, 2023.

The situation is just as grim in the high courts. Out of 767 permanent and additional judges in the high courts across India, only 103 are female judges (i.e 13.42%).

The district judiciary, however, shows considerable improvement with the strength of 36.33% female judges. 

The appointment of judicial officers in the district judiciary is the responsibility of the state governments and respective high courts. The report has found that states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh provide reservations for women in judicial examinations to promote gender diversity. As many as 14 states (of the 16 examined as a part of the report) have appointed more than 50% female judicial officers in the last civil judges (junior division) recruitment examination. While Sikkim selected 80% female officers, in Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand, 65% and 63.6% respectively, female judicial officers were selected.

It is not just the lack of adequate gender representation in judiciary that the states need to focus on but also the complete disregard shown towards the needs of the existing female judicial officers.


One such instance that the report looks at is the absence of female- friendly toilets in the Indian courts.

The report says a mere 6.7% of toilets facilities in courts across India are “female- friendly” with provisions like sanitary napkin-vending machines set up in them.

While in the high courts, the report has found, the number of washrooms is adequate with respect to the current strength of judges. This count, according to the study, needs to be increased with respect to the sanctioned strength. The real concern, however, is the condition of the lower judiciary. The report, terming the condition of toilets in the lower courts “deplorable”, states:

“It is a ground reality that court complexes at the district level not only have inadequate washrooms but at times, have washrooms that are dysfunctional, with broken doors and do not have regular supply of running water.”

As many as 12 high courts submitted that there is a “stark inadequacy” of toilets for judges, staff, lawyers and litigants in the district judiciary. Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud too had flagged the issue of lack of proper toilets in court rooms in one of his recent speeches. The report also pointed at the need to build toilets bearing in mind the need to also accommodate the transgender community. 


Similarly, to study the caste diversity in the lower judiciary, the report looks at six states namely, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. In these states, out of 1,389 seats advertised for the Civil Judge (Junior Division) exam recently, 766 posts were advertised for the reserved category, which includes Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Economically Weaker Section (EWS), and others, as applicable to each State. 

Also read: More Than Three in Four High Court Judges Appointed Since 2018 Upper-Caste: Law Ministry

The report has revealed that in the six states examined, 37.5% seats of the posts advertised for the reserved category remained unfilled. These unfilled vacancies contribute to 66.3% of the overall seats that remained unfilled in the last recruitment exam of the Civil Judge (junior Division). 

Another important data point that the report has thrown light on is the caste breakup of the recent recruitments carried out in the high courts. As many as 492 out of the 650 judges appointed between 2018 to 2023 belong to the General Category, the report reveals.

“At a time when judiciary needs maximum judge strength to cut down the mounting arrears, unfilled vacancies, especially from the reserved category, calls for sincere action. It is a positive obligation upon the state to take affirmative steps to ensure that the marginalised sections are enabled and empowered enough to be participative in the maintream decision-making process in society,” the report says.

Make a contribution to Independent Journalism
facebook twitter