Cabinet approves increasing strength of SC judges from 31 to 34

The court rejected pleas which had sought re-examination of the December 14, 2018 verdict . Photo: PTI.

Against the backdrop of rising cases in the Supreme Court, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday (July 31) approved increasing the number of judges in the top court from the present 30 to 33, excluding the chief justice of India, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said.

At present, the sanctioned strength of the apex court is 30, excluding the CJI. Once the bill to increase the number of judges gets parliamentary nod, the number of judges would go up to 33, excluding the CJI. The strength will be 34, including the CJI, the minister told reporters after the cabinet meeting.

At present, the Supreme Court is working with its full sanctioned strength of 31, including the CJI. The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 was last amended in 2009 to increase the judges’ strength from 25 to 30 (excluding the CJI).

The decision of the cabinet came 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.

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 But the restriction was withdrawn at the request of the chief justice of India.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.