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Docket explosion: Why SC activated Article 224A, which was lying dormant for 58 years

New Delhi, Apr 21: An article in the Indian Constitution that has been dormant for 58 years has been activated by the Supreme Court to allow appointment of retired High Court judges as ad hoc judges for two to five years.

The decision to activate Article 224A of the Constitution was taken to clear the huge pendency of cases in the judiciary. A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India, S A Bobde clarified that the appointment of ad hoc judges would not be against the vacancies in the sanctioned strength of judges in a HC.

Docket explosion: Why SC activated Article 224A, which was lying dormant for 58 years

Article 224A was there in the original Constitution in 1949, but was detailed in 1956 and then re-introduced in 1963.

In the past 58 years only three retired judges have been appointed as ad hoc judges for a period of one year each under this provision. They are Justice Suraj Bhan to the Madhya Pradesh HC in 1972, Justice P Venugopal to Madras High Court in 1982 and Justice O P Srivastava to the Allahabad HC in 2007.

The Bench said that the recourse to Article 224A is not an alternate to regular appoints. We clarify that if the recommendations have not been made for more than 20 per cent of the regular vacancies then the trigger for recourse to Article 224A would not arise.

The Bench also comprising Justice Sanjay Kaul said that they had little doubt that the challenge of mounting arrears and existing vacancies requires recourse to Article 224A to appoint ad hoc judges which is a ready pool of talent, as a methodology especially for clearing old cases. The ad hoc judges are absolved from administrative responsibilities. They can concentrate on old cases which are stuck on the system and may require greater experience.

The Centre told the court that it had no objection to HC CJs resorting to Article 224A, but first the HC collegium must fill the existing vacancies before relying on the dormant provision.

In our view this would be a self-defeating argument because the very reason why Article 224A has been resorted to is non-filling up of vacancies and mounting arrears. We may hasten to add that the objective is not to appoint ad hoc judges instead of judges to be appointed to the regular strength of the HC, the Bench said while rejecting the Attorney General's submission.

We have a docket explosion in our country and that it is difficult for adjudication to take place within a reasonable period of time. This crisis situation must be tackled. Some innovation is always the rule of the game, the Bench said.

It further said that in the present context, maybe a slightly different view has to be taken in respect of the avowed purpose of Article 224A providing for ad hoc judges. We say so as we are faced with the ground reality of almost 40 per cent vacancies remaining in regular appointments over the last two years, as we have already mentioned. A number of vacancies arising every year are barely filled by fresh appointments, the Supreme Court also said.

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