With almost 61,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court, Chief Justice of India JS Khehar said on Thursday the apex court was on a “fast track” to dispose off old cases and assured litigants that their listed matters will not get deleted.
“We all are on the fast track. Don’t worry, the matter will not be deleted from the list. We will take it up,” a bench of the CJI and Justice DY Chandrachud said when an apprehensive lawyer mentioned his matter and urged that it should not get deleted from the list before it is heard.
Within a fortnight of taking over as CJI, Justice Khehar has already revived the bench to deal specifically with issues relating to social justice. During the proceedings on Thursday, when another lawyer wanted early hearing of his matter which required breaking of the present sitting combination of judges as per the new roaster, the CJI reacted sharply, saying “sorry, we cannot break two benches.”
However, he said “things are changing fast. We are disposing of old matters and breaking two benches will delay the matters further. We cannot afford that. We suggest that we list the matter for Monday or Friday after lunch. If you have a better suggestion, then tell us.”
As part of efforts to speed up disposal of cases, Justice Khehar has revived the social justice bench created by former Chief Justice HL Dattu in December 2014. The social justice bench, then headed by Justices Madan B Lokur, used to sit once a week on Fridays for two hours to decide on social issues ranging from strengthening of Public Distribution System and drought situation to slaughter houses, night shelters, health, hygiene and trafficking of children.
CJI TS Thakur had not continued with this system and distributed such cases among all other benches. The apex court’s 2014 notification setting up the social justice bench had said, “In the Supreme Court, several cases relating to the domain of ‘social justice’ are pending for several years. The CJI is of the view that these cases shall be given a specialised approach for their early disposal so the masses will realise the fruits of the rights provided to them under the Constitution”.
The revived bench will now deal with petitions relating to social justice more frequently than before. The Supreme Court, which is eight short of the sanctioned strength of 31 judges, is reeling under pendency of over 60,500 cases. The Indian Judiciary Annual Report 2015-2016, issued by the Supreme Court recently, shows that as on September 30, 2016, a total of 60,938 cases, including 50,205 civil and 10,733 criminal, were pending before it.