The Supreme Court has come to the aid of the Tripura High Court to resolve problems arising out of its lack of judges, especially its backlog of long-pending cases, a top court official said.
“There are at least 35 cases pending for long in which recusals have been sought by the Tripura High Court judges. It is not possible to constitute a Division Bench or a separate bench if a judge recuses himself from hearing a specific case on grounds of conflict of interest,” the official told IANS on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The official said Tripura High Court Chief Justice T. Vaiphei wrote an urgent letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice J.S. Khehar last month seeking his intervention to overcome the unique problem.
“After examining various possible steps and legal provisions, the apex court has served notice to the litigants involved in the 35 cases. After the Supreme Court receives the replies, it might come to a decision,” the official added.
The Tripura High Court has 2,885 pending cases excluding these 35 cases.
“The Supreme Court has also studied the possibility of invoking Article 224AA by which (an additional) judge could be appointed. It also studied transfer of these 35 cases to Gauhati High Court for disposal,” the official said.
But then, this would seriously dent the logic by which the Tripura High Court was created in 2013, experts said.
Article 224AA allows the Chief Justice of a High Court, with the consent of the President, to ask any judge of any other High Court to act as a judge of the High Court.
“Tripura High Court has a sanctioned strength of four judges, including the Chief Justice. There are currently three serving judges, including the Chief Justice, after a judge retired a few months ago,” the official said.
Along with Tripura, separate High Courts were also set up in Manipur and Meghalaya in 2013.
These states — as also all the other northeastern states — were earlier under the jurisdiction of the Gauhati High Court. Sikkim was the only exception as it already had a separate High Court.
The working strength of judges in the five High Courts — Gauhati, Sikkim, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura — is 28 against the sanctioned strength of 39, a document of the Union Ministry of Law and Justice said.
It said the working strength of the Gauhati High Court, which has jurisdiction over Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, is 17 against the sanctioned strength of 24.
The Meghalaya and Manipur High Courts currently have three judges against their sanctioned strength of four each while in the Sikkim High Court, the working strength is two against the sanctioned strength of three.
“Separate High Courts for the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram have not been established because the state governments have not yet completed creation of necessary infrastructure in these states,” the ministry document added.
A record 21,984 cases were settled in a day in Tripura through a ‘Maha Lok Adalat’ last month to bring down the pendency in the lower courts. It was organised in Agartala at the instance of Chief Justice Vaiphei.
“In the day-long process, 21,984 court cases were settled through 40 temporary courts, where 53,843 cases were presented,” Tripura State Legal Services Authority member-secretary Bipradas Palit told IANS, adding: “Around Rs 33.94 lakh was collected in penalties and fines.”
Palit said that 148,275 cases were pending for years in Tripura’s lower courts.