Four new judges were appointed to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, taking its strength to 34, the highest-ever. According to separate Law Ministry notifications, justices Krishna Murari, SR Bhat, V Ramasubramanian and Hrishikesh Roy were appointed as judges of the top court. The Supreme Court Collegium had recommended their names to the government last month.
Justices V Ramasubramanian and Krishna Murari head the Himachal Pradesh and Punjab and Haryana high courts respectively. Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Hrishikesh Roy head the Rajasthan and Kerala high courts respectively.
With a huge backlog of cases in the top court, the government had recently increased the strength of its judges from 31 to 34, including the Chief Justice of India. As of today, the apex court has 30 judges. Once the new judges take oath, the strength will go up to 34, the highest ever.
The sanctioned strength of SC judges was increased days after Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to increase the number of judges in the top court. According to a written reply by the Law Ministry to a Rajya Sabha question on July 11, 59,331 cases are pending in the top court.
Due to paucity of judges, the required number of constitution benches to decide important cases involving questions of law were not being formed, the CJI said.
"You would recall that way back in 1988, about three decades ago, the judge strength of the SC was increased from 18 to 26, and then again after two decades in 2009, it was increased to 31, including the CJI, to expedite disposal of cases to keep pace with the rate of institution," he wrote.
"I request you to kindly consider, on top priority, to augment the judge-strength in the SC appropriately so that it can function more efficiently and effectively as it will go a long way to attain the ultimate goal of rendering timely justice to the litigant public," Gogoi wrote.
Some of the consultee judges are learnt to have questioned the recommendation to elevate some of the candidates who are lower in the order in the all-India seniority list.
Consultee judges are those who have earlier served in courts where the candidate judges are currently posted. The views of consultee judges are not binding on the collegium. The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 originally provided for a maximum of ten judges (excluding the CJI).
This number was increased to 13 by the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 1960, and to 17 in 1977. The working strength of the Supreme Court was, however, restricted to 15 judges by the cabinet (excluding the chief Justice of India) till the end of 1979. But the restriction was withdrawn at the request of the chief justice of India.
In 1986, the strength of the top court was increased to 25, excluding the CJI. Subsequently, the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 2009 further augmented the strength of the court from 25 to 30.