The chief justice took on the government over the failure to come up with judicial reforms, said judges should be told to work extra years when they retire, and hit out at the "commercial courts".
"It is not enough to criticise. You can't shift the entire burden on judges," he said, pointing out that nine judges of the American Supreme Court together decided 81 cases in a year whereas a judge in the Indian Supreme Court decided 2,600 cases a year. "The only remedy is to establish more courts and increase the strength of the judges to 50 judges per million population."
According to the programme schedule, the chief justice was to speak for no more than 15 minutes. But an emotive Justice Thakur spoke for more than 35 minutes as he gave vent to his frustration. Modi offered to set up a committee of government officers and people from the judiciary to address the issues. "I will make efforts to address the serious concerns." India, the chief justice said, cannot achieve economic growth without a robust judiciary overseen by an adequate number of judges. This was also needed to attract foreign capital. "Those whom we are inviting (to invest) are also concerned with the judicial system and justice delivery," he said. "Efficacy of the judicial system is so vitally connected with the development of the country." He moaned that the suggestions of the apex court collegium for appointing more judges were pending with the government but "nothing really appears to be moving". Justice delivery system was an illusion for 30 percent of the population living below poverty line, he said. "The infrastructure in the subordinate courts needs to be upgraded and vacancies filled."
He said more than 38 lakh cases were pending in the high courts and asked: "What is the way out?"
"We must do whatever is possible to reduce the pendency of the cases. The jails are full and overflowing."
At the same, every year, courts in India disposed off more than two crore cases. In 1987, the government's Law Commission had said that India's judicial system needed 40,000 judges at different levels. Since then the country's population had increased by 30 crore people. He recalled that when then chief justice Altmash Kabir told then prime minister Manmohan Singh in 2013 that nothing was being done to address the ills of the judicial system, the latter replied that it concerned state governments and they had no money. Chief Justice Thakur took a dig at the government the way it dealt with commercial courts, saying they were not meant to draw on existing judicial infrastructure and judges strength. The commercial courts in Dubai have "solemn and efficient environment", he said. But the way they worked in India won't "serve the purpose for which they were created".
He said one way to overcome the problem was to rope in trained judges to deal with the backlog of cases. "At this stage, to ask a judge to go home (after retirement) is criminal."