For the second time within a year, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has taken punitive action aimed at cleansing the subordinate judiciary, which is plagued by ills such as indiscipline, complacency, inefficiency and corruption. Two Additional District and Sessions Judges have been retired compulsorily, while the initiation of disciplinary proceedings has been approved against two District and Sessions Judges. A total of 16 judicial officers belonging to the subordinate courts of Punjab and Haryana have come under the high court’s scanner. This stern demonstration of zero tolerance to judicial irregularities or underperformance is a welcome move. It can act as a potent deterrent and also improve the administration of justice in the long run.
Subordinate courts account for almost 90 per cent of the pending cases across all courts in the country. In the lower judiciary, nearly one in every four cases has been pending for at least five years. The overall nationwide backlog is reported to be in excess of 4.5 crore cases. While there is no doubt that judicial vacancies contribute to the high pendency of cases, the failure of some judges to perform their duty diligently and satisfactorily is also an aggravating factor.
Various high courts have been cracking the whip on the subordinate judiciary from time to time. In 2017, the Delhi High Court had transferred 87 judicial officers and ordered the abolition of a dozen lower courts; a subordinate judge on probation had been dismissed for having allegedly amassed ‘questionable’ financial assets. In 2019, the Madras High Court had sacked three judicial officers and denied extension of service to eight others. Such steps are a wake-up call for the erring judges to get their act together or invite action. Regular monitoring of the judges’ performance can go a long way in weeding out the black sheep as well as the dead wood. A periodic clean-up of the subordinate courts can not only fast-track the delivery of justice but also reduce the number of frustrated litigants who are forced to approach higher courts.