At the outset, it has to be stated without mincing any words that it merits no reiteration that Judges age for retirement must be now increased to 75. When lawyers can work as lawyers till the age of even 100 then why are Judges made to retire so early in life? The problem in India is that when once a rule is made then no effort is made to change it to meet the present circumstances.
Status quo continues for decades and decades together! As for instance Jawaharlal Nehru took the most senseless decision to create a High Court Bench in Lucknow also called the city of Nawabs in 1948 which is so near to Allahabad where High Court was transferred by Britishers from Agra to Allahabad in 1869 just three years after it was created in 1866. This was continued as status quo since last 74 years and the people of Uttarakhand had to travel more than thousands of kilometers all the way to Allahabad as no other PM dared to create any other bench anywhere else in UP. This despite the fact that UP is the most populated state of India with more than 23 crore population with maximum pending cases in India, maximum Judges in lower courts, maximum Judges in High Court and what not!
Not just this, Justice Jaswant Singh Commission recommended that 3 High Court Benches be set up in Agra, Dehradun and Nainital but not a single approved anywhere even though on its recommendations High Court Benches were approved for other places like Aurangabad in Maharashtra even though Maharashtra already had Benches at Panaji and Nagpur, for Madurai at Tamil Nadu and Japlaiguri in West Bengal which already had a Bench in Port Blair. Centre ensured that from 1947 till 2021 and as PM unveils celebration of 75th year independence day not a single High Court Bench is created anywhere else in any hook and corner of UP. This despite the astonishing fact that even the incumbent UP CM Yogi Adityanath himself demanding High Court Bench at Gorakhpur while he was MP from Gorakhpur in 1999 right inside Parliament and former PM late Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself demanding High Court Bench for West UP at Meerut in Parliament itself in 1986 in his capacity as Leader of Opposition! What to talk about others many of whom demanded 5 High Court Benches for UP like former Union Minister Dr Satyapal Singh who had demanded right inside Parliament High Court Benches at Meerut, Agra, Gorakhpur, Varanasi and Jhansi! But Centre very strongly feels that even though Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura are most sacred cities for Hindus but they are “most worthless cities” for being considered for High Court Benches and till date not a single High Court Bench has been created in any of these three holy cities by Centre in last 7 years that NDA has been in power in Centre and for 4 years in UP which is most baffling! In the name of “Allah” we have a High Court in “Allahabad” created centuries ago and in the name of “City of Nawabs” we have a High Court Bench in “Lucknow” created decades ago even though it is just two hours journey from Allahabad but for “Kashi” where it is said that “Lord Shiv” resides or “Mathura” in West UP where it is said “Lord Krishna” resides or for “Ayodhya” where Lord Ram resides and for which thousands of crores are being spent for a temple are just “worthless cities” not fit under any circumstances to be given a “High Court Bench”. Same holds true for “Gorakhpur” where none other than the incumbent UP CM Yogi Adityanath always worships “Lord Gorakhnath”! But the past UPA government was gracious enough to gift two more High Court Benches at Dharwad and Gulbarga for just 4 and 8 districts for Karnataka with just 6 crore population which is less than West UP population of more than 9 crore and more than 20 districts yet has not even a Bench leave alone having High Court! Most shocking and most disgraceful!
Anyway, coming to the present issue, why can’t age limit be raised for District Court Judges who generally retire at 58 to 65 or at least 60, High Court Judges who retire at 62 to 70 or at least 65 and Supreme Court Judges who retire at 65 to 75 or at least 70? Why status quo for so many decades? Time and again it has been recommended by many jurists to increase the age limit but it was never listened to. Demand for the same has been raised even in Parliament but again to no avail!
Most remarkably, Justice Indu Malhotra who is a woman Supreme Court Judge thanked everyone for all their support in her farewell speech as she bids adieu to her term as a Judge is Supreme Court. She was gracious enough to concede that, “I am happy and leave this Court with a sense of fulfillment.” Her conduct is truly exemplary!
She rightly and remarkably said most elegantly, eloquently and effectively that, “My only message is that I have been blessed to have had an opportunity to serve on the Bench of SC. It has enabled me to contribute to the jurisprudence of this Court. Even if it was a short 3 years tenure, I leave this Court with a great sense of fulfillment.”
As anticipated, we saw Attorney General KK Venugopal who is one of the brightest gems of the Supreme Court remarking very rightly that, “Justice Indu Malhotra is one of the best Judges the Court has had.” He however did not shy away from lamenting that, “It’s unfortunate that Judges have to retire at age of 65 from the SC Bench, because of all the experience they have and knowledge they have gathered.” Why can’t Centre do the necessary correction on this promptly?
Not stopping here, KK Venugopal also added that, “We are sorry as a Bar that Justice Malhotra is retiring after having done human service specially in the Sabrimala case, where she propounded Constitutional morality, and people were surprised. The integrity she had shown, specially as a women Judge, by holding that women between 15 and 50 should not be permitted because if permitted the religious faith of the entire community would be violated.”
Yet another diamond and legal luminary who is none other than the Supreme Court Bar Association President – Vikas Singh too did not mince any words to state quite upfront that, “Judges shouldn’t retire till 70. 65 is an age when you are at your peak, there is no reason why Judges should retire at 65.” This despite the bone chilling fact that more than 3 and a half crore cases are pending adjudication in lower courts and the situation in High Courts and Supreme Court too is not something to be proud of and still we see Judge posts lying vacant! Can there be any sensible justification for this?
Have we ever seen MPs and MLAs post lying vacant? This is the real rub! This is the real reason why we keep seeing cases pending for decades and still Parliament is just not prepared to address it till now which is an unpalatable truth which we have no option but to face!
Why Centre behaves so miserly when it comes to judiciary? Why half of High Court Judges vacancies keep lying vacant? Why it just increases the age of Judges once in a blue moon that is once in many decades and that too most miserly by just one or two years?
Why Centre behaves so miserly when it comes to creating more High Court Benches in big states like UP and Bihar which keep witnessing frequent incidents of crime and UP tops among all the States but for peaceful states like Karnataka and Maharashtra is ever ready to create more and more High Court Benches? This alone explains why many in UP say rightly that even though a right wing party BJP is ruling which is pompously celebrating the renaming of “Allahabad” as “Prayagraj” and “Faizabad” as “Ayodhya” but it has no guts unlike Jawaharlal Nehru who created a High Court Bench so close to “Allahabad” at “Lucknow” famously called the “City of Nawabs” at any place anywhere in UP as it knows fully well that all cities in UP whether it is Meerut where first war of independence broke out in 1857 or Agra where High Court was initially established in 1866 and for whom Justice Jaswant Singh Commission recommended High Court Bench or holy cities like Gorakhpur, Kashi, Ayodhya, Mathura among other cities as also industrial cities like “Kanpur” are all “worthless cities” not fit to be given a “High Court Bench” under any circumstances whatsoever just like all cities of Uttarakhand when they formed part of UP were also considered “worthless cities” even though Justice Jaswant Singh Commission set up by Centre had recommended two High Court Benches at Dehradun and Nainital!
It is a different matter altogether that when people started agitating then Centre felt compelled to give it not High Court Bench” but “High Court” itself at Nainital! If Centre had created a High Court Bench in time in Dehradun and Nainital, it would still have been part of UP but Centre’s most adamant, shameless and senseless attitude in denying UP even a single more Bench other than the one at “City of Nawabs” called “Lucknow” ensured that the people of Uttarakhand ultimately were compelled to part ways with UP in 2000 when it was created as a separate state!
No wonder Maharashtra topped in Justice Index list as it has multiple High Court Benches yet Centre ensures that more High Court Benches are created there but for States not doing well like UP and Bihar, it is simply not prepared to anything on this score! This despite the fact that PM Narendra Modi represents Varanasi in UP and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad represents Patna from Bihar! UP has minimum Benches in India and Bihar and West UP which are notorious for maximum crime incidents have none! This alone explains why Rahul Gandhi dares to remark on the people of UP while applauding the people of South! It is high time and now Centre must start doing justice with big north states like UP and Bihar which hold the key to power in India yet remain “most neglected” till date!
Why Centre ensures that all seats for MPs and MLAs are regularly filled as elections are held regularly whereas for Judges we see that for more than 5 years exams are not held as we saw how in UP exams for Civil Judge Junior Division were not held from 2007 till 2012? Why huge vacancies of Judges are not filled? Why we see more than half of the Judges posts in High Court at Allahabad lying vacant for a long period? Who is then to blame for huge pending cases in UP?
More to the point: Why not a single seat for MP and MLA is ever left vacant for even a short time but for Judges seat it is just the opposite as they keep lying vacant for decades? This despite the stark fact that big states like UP are crumbling under huge pending cases and we saw how Vishnu Tiwari was freed from a fake rape case after being in 20 years in prison and similarly in many other cases accused are free after more than three decades as happened with 3 advocates who were wrongly accused in a case and were freed after 33 years! Still why Centre is so determined never to allow a single Bench anywhere for remote areas like in Bundelkhand in Jhansi or in West UP or for Purvanchal in Gorakhpur from where UP CM Yogi Adityananth himself hails or at any other place?
Now coming back to the current issue of raising age limit of Judges, it is high time that Centre now finally get its act together and do the needful in this direction also. This issue cannot be kept in cold storage any longer! Learned Attorney General KK Venugopal and Supreme Court Bar Association President Vikas Singh are no “small fry” but occupy the “most highest posts” respectively in judiciary and have many decades of “field experience” which cannot be lightly dismissed by anyone not even Centre! If I am not mistaken, senior advocate of Supreme Court Vikas Singh has earlier also been the President of Supreme Court Bar Association and has even occupied high posts in legal field like that of Additional Solicitor General among others!
One only hopes that saner wisdom prevails on Centre at least now so that it does the needful in this direction and pay heed to what is being said by KK Venugopal, Vikas Singh among others! It is high time that it stops dishing “lame excuses” for not doing the “needful” as the past governments have been culpable of doing till now most unfortunately! Let’s hope so fervently!