The general discussion on the Railway Budget concluded in Parliament this week. During the discussion, several MPs made a reference to two important documents tabled by the Railway Minister in 2009 - the ‘White Paper' on Indian Railways and the 2020 Vision document. The documents provide good insight into the operational and financial performance of Railways over the previous five years. They also throw light on the challenges that confront the Railways today. It emerges that Railways has relied heavily on increasing utilization of existing assets to manage the increase in demand. The system is otherwise severely constrained by lack of adequate capacity. Scenario so far (2004-09) Growth in traffic and earnings Rail transport demand is linked to the growth in GDP. As a result, the two main businesses of Railways – Passenger and Freight – have both seen significant increases in traffic in recent years. Passenger traffic has grown at an average rate of 10% each year. Earnings have increased at a slightly higher pace, implying that most passengers have been spared increases in fare. Standalone, passenger operations have continued to be loss making. Freight traffic has grown too, but at a lower rate of about 7% and unlike the passenger segment, freight fares have increased significantly over these years. Freight forms the backbone of Railways' revenues. Even today, it continues to account for almost two-thirds of total earnings. However, Railways’ market share in freight has decreased steadily over the past few decades - it dropped from 90% in 1950-51 to less than 30% in 2007-08. The main reasons for this decline are high pricing (to subsidize passenger travel) and lack of sufficient infrastructure. Railways are unable to provide time-tabled freight services. In addition, there are no multi-modal logistics parks that could have provided door-to-door cargo services. Infrastructure constraints Since 1950-51, route-kms have increased by just 18% and track-kms by 41%, even though freight and passenger output has gone up almost 12 times. Specific issues include:

  • Common corridor for both freight and passenger traffic - With freight trains on the same corridor, operating fast passenger trains becomes extremely difficult.
  • Concentration of traffic - More than half the total traffic moves on the golden quadrilateral and its diagonals; large parts of these sections are now already saturated.
  • Limited capacity for production of rolling stock, particularly locomotives and EMUs.

The above constraints require investment in network and capacity augmentation, including dedicated freight corridors. Hence, a substantial increase in funding is necessary. The Vision 2020 document planned to deploy Rs 14 lakh crore in the next 10 years towards development of rail infrastructure. Recent trends (as presented in the Budget 2011) This year's budget presented the actual financial performance in 2009-10, the provisional performance in 2010-11 and the targets for 2011-12 (Details can be accessed here). It also highlighted achievements on other metrics, including growth in traffic and augmentation of infrastructure (See 'Status of some key projects proposed in 2010-11'). On financials, 2009-10 was a bad year for Railways. Figures show a high Operating Ratio of 95.3%. Operating Ratio is a metric that compares operating expenses to revenues. A higher ratio indicates lower ability to generate surplus. The 2009-10 Operating Ratio is the highest since 2002. According to the Railways Minister, this can be partly attributed to higher payout in salaries and pension due to implementation of Sixth Pay Commission recommendations. Growth in passenger traffic remained high in 2010-11, at 11%. However, growth in freight traffic slowed down to 2%. Again, passenger fares remained untouched, but freight fares were increased. Railways, in 2011-12, targets an increase of 8% in both passenger and freight traffic. Financials are expected to improve. An amount of Rs. 57,630 crore has been budgeted as net plan outlay for investment in infrastructure. Last year, this figure was Rs 41,426 crore. In her opening remarks during the Budget speech in Parliament, the Minister commented that Railways forms an important backbone of any country. Lets hope it is headed in the right direction!

Recently, the Supreme Court collegium reiterated its recommendations for the appointment of 11 judges to certain High Courts.  It had first recommended these names earlier this year and in August last year, but these appointments were not made.  The Indian judiciary faces high vacancies across all levels (the Supreme Court, High Courts, and subordinate courts).  Vacancy of judges in courts is one of the reasons for delays and a rising number of pending cases, as there are not enough judges to hear and decide cases.  As of today, more than four crore cases are pending across all courts in India.   In this blog post, we discuss vacancies across courts over the years, delays in appointment of judges, and methods to determine the adequate judge strength required to handle the caseload courts face.

High vacancy of judges across courts

Vacancies in courts keep on arising periodically due to retirement, resignation, demise, or elevation of judges.  Over the years, the sanctioned strength of judges in both High Courts and subordinate courts has been increased gradually.  However, vacancies persist due to insufficient appointments (see Figures 1 and 2).  Between 2010 and 2020, vacancies increased from 18% to 21% across all levels of courts (from 6% to 12% in the Supreme Court, from 33% to 38% in High Courts, and from 18% to 20% in subordinate courts). 

Figure 1: Vacancy of judges in High Courts

Figure 2: Vacancy of judges in subordinate courts



Sources: Court News 2010-2018; Vacancy Statement, and Rajya Sabha replies, Part I, Budget Session (2021), Department of Justice; PRS.

As on November 1, 2021, the Supreme Court had a vacancy of one judge (out of a sanctioned strength of 34).  Vacancy in High Courts stood at 37% (406 posts vacant out of a sanctioned strength of 1,098).  Since May, 2021, the Supreme Court collegium has recommended more than 130 names for appointment as High Court judges.  In three High Courts (Telangana, Patna, and Calcutta), at least half of the posts are vacant (see Figure 3).  The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (2020) noted that every year, 35-40% of posts of High Court judges remain unfilled. 

Figure 3: Vacancy of judges across High Courts (in %) (as on November 1, 2021)


Source: Vacancy Statement, Department of Justice; PRS.










Appointments of High Court judges are guided by a memorandum of procedure.  As per this memorandum, the appointment process is to be initiated by the concerned High Court at least six months before a vacancy occurs.  However, the Standing Committee (2021) noted that this timeline is rarely adhered to by High Courts.  Further, in the final stage of the process, after receiving recommendations from the Supreme Court collegium, the executive appoints judges to the High Court.  No timeline is prescribed for this stage of the appointment process.  In 2018 and 2019, the average time taken to appoint High Court judges after receiving the collegium’s recommendations was five to seven months.

As of today, over 3.6 crore cases are pending before subordinate courts in India.  As on February 20, 2020, 21% posts for judges were vacant (5,146 posts out of the sanctioned strength of 24,018) in subordinate courts.  Subordinate courts in Bihar, Haryana, and Jharkhand (among the states with high population) had a high proportion of vacancies of judges (see Figure 4).  Note that the Supreme Court is monitoring the procedure for appointment of judges to subordinate courts.

For an analysis of the data on pendency and vacancies in the Indian judiciary, see here.

Figure 4: Vacancy of judges across subordinate courts (in %) (as on February 20, 2020)


Source: Report No. 101, Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (2020); PRS.


How many judges do we need?

The Law Commission of India (1987) had noted the importance of manpower planning for the judiciary.  Lack of adequate number of judges means a greater workload per judge.  Thus, it becomes essential to arrive at an optimal judge strength to deal with pending and new cases in courts.  Over the years, different methods of calculating the required judge strength for subordinate courts (where the backlog of cases in the Indian judiciary is concentrated) have been recommended (see Table 1). 

Table 1: Methods recommended for calculating the required number of judges for subordinate courts

Method of calculation

Recommendation and its status

Judge-to-population ratio: optimum number of judges per million population

The Law Commission of India (1987) had recommended increasing this ratio to 50 judges per million people.  This was reiterated by the Supreme Court (2001) and the Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2002).  For 2020, the judge-to-population ratio was 21 judges per million population.     Note that this figure is calculated based on the sanctioned strength of judges in the Supreme Court, High Courts and subordinate courts.

Rate of disposal: number of additional judges required (to clear the existing backlog of cases and ensure that new backlog is not created) based on the average number of cases disposed per judge

The Law Commission of India (2014) proposed this method.  It rejected the judge-to-population ratio method, observing that filing of cases per capita varies substantially across geographic units depending on socio-economic conditions.

Weighted case load method: calculating judge strength based on the disposal by judges, taking into account the nature and complexity of cases in local conditions

The National Court Management Systems Committee (NCMS) (2016) critiqued the rate of disposal method.     It proposed, as an interim measure, the weighted case load method, which addresses the existing backlog of cases as well as the new flow of cases every year in subordinate courts.     In 2017, the Supreme Court accepted this model.

Time-based weighted case load method: calculating the required judge strength taking into account the actual time spent by judges in different types of cases at varying stages based on an empirical study

Used widely in the United States, this was the long-term method recommended by the NCMS (2016) to assess the required judge strength for subordinate courts.  It involves determining the total number of ‘judicial hours’ required for disposing of the case load of each court.  The Delhi High Court used this approach in a pilot project (January 2017- December 2018) to calculate the ideal judge strength for disposing of pending cases in certain courts in Delhi.

Sources: Reports No. 120 (1987) and 245 (2014), Law Commission of India; Report No. 85, Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2002); Note for Calculating Required Judge Strength for Subordinate Courts, National Court Management Systems Committee (NCMS) (2016); Imtiyaz Ahmad vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, Supreme Court (2017); PRS.