In the recent past, there has been a renewed discussion around nutrition in India.  A few months ago, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released the National Health Policy, 2017.[1]  It highlighted the negative impact of malnutrition on the population’s productivity, and its contribution to mortality rates in the country.  In light of the long term effects of malnutrition, across generations, the NITI Aayog released the National Nutrition Strategy this week.  This post presents the current status of malnutrition in India and measures proposed by this Strategy.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition indicates that children are either too short for their age or too thin.[2]  Children whose height is below the average for their age are considered to be stunted.  Similarly, children whose weight is below the average for their age are considered thin for their height or wasted.  Together, the stunted and wasted children are considered to be underweight – indicating a lack of proper nutritional intake and inadequate care post childbirth.

What is the extent of malnutrition in India?

India’s performance on key malnutrition indicators is poor according to national and international studies.  According to UNICEF, India was at the 10th spot among countries with the highest number of underweight children, and at the 17th spot for the highest number of stunted children in the world.[3]

Malnutrition affects chances of survival for children, increases their susceptibility to illness, reduces their ability to learn, and makes them less productive in later life.[4]   It is estimated that malnutrition is a contributing factor in about one-third of all deaths of children under the age of 5.[5]  Figure 1 looks at the key statistics on malnutrition for children in India.

Figure 1: Malnutrition in children under 5 years (2005-06 and 2015-16)

NFHS Survey

Sources: National Family Health Survey 3 & 4; PRS.

Over the decade between 2005 and 2015, there has been an overall reduction in the proportion of underweight children in India, mainly on account of an improvement in stunting.  While the percentage of stunted children under 5 reduced from 48% in 2005-06 to 38.4% in 2015-16, there has been a rise in the percentage of children who are wasted from 19.8% to 21% during this period.[6],[7]  A high increase in the incidence of wasting was noted in Punjab, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Sikkim.[8]

The prevalence of underweight children was found to be higher in rural areas (38%) than urban areas (29%). According to WHO, infants weighing less than 2.5 Kg are 20 times more likely to die than heavier babies.2  In India, the national average weight at birth is less than 2.5 Kg for 19% of the children.  The incidence of low birth-weight babies varied across different states, with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh witnessing the highest number of underweight childbirths at 23%.[9]

Further, more than half of India’s children are anaemic (58%), indicating an inadequate amount of haemoglobin in the blood.  This is caused by a nutritional deficiency of iron and other essential minerals, and vitamins in the body.2

Is malnutrition witnessed only among children?

No.  Among adults, 23% of women and 20% of men are considered undernourished in India.  On the other hand, 21% of women and 19% of men are overweight or obese.  The simultaneous occurrence of over nutrition and under-nutrition indicates that adults in India are suffering from a dual burden of malnutrition (abnormal thinness and obesity).  This implies that about 56% of women and 61% of men are at normal weight for their height.

What does the National Nutrition Strategy propose?

Various government initiatives have been launched over the years which seek to improve the nutrition status in the country.  These include the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the National Health Mission, the Janani Suraksha Yojana, the Matritva Sahyog Yojana, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, and the National Food Security Mission, among others.  However, concerns regarding malnutrition have persisted despite improvements over the years.  It is in this context that the National Nutrition Strategy has been released.  Key features of the Strategy include:8

  • The Strategy aims to reduce all forms of malnutrition by 2030, with a focus on the most vulnerable and critical age groups. The Strategy also aims to assist in achieving the targets identified as part of the Sustainable Development Goals related to nutrition and health.
  • The Strategy aims to launch a National Nutrition Mission, similar to the National Health Mission. This is to enable integration of nutrition-related interventions cutting across sectors like women and child development, health, food and public distribution, sanitation, drinking water, and rural development.
  • A decentralised approach will be promoted with greater flexibility and decision making at the state, district and local levels. Further, the Strategy aims to strengthen the ownership of Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies over nutrition initiatives.  This is to enable decentralised planning and local innovation along with accountability for nutrition outcomes.
  • The Strategy proposes to launch interventions with a focus on improving healthcare and nutrition among children. These interventions will include: (i) promotion of breastfeeding for the first six months after birth, (ii) universal access to infant and young child care (including ICDS and crèches), (iii) enhanced care, referrals and management of severely undernourished and sick children, (iv) bi-annual vitamin A supplements for children in the age group of 9 months to 5 years, and (v) micro-nutrient supplements and bi-annual de-worming for children.
  • Measures to improve maternal care and nutrition include: (i) supplementary nutritional support during pregnancy and lactation, (ii) health and nutrition counselling, (iii) adequate consumption of iodised salt and screening of severe anaemia, and (iv) institutional childbirth, lactation management and improved post-natal care.
  • Governance reforms envisaged in the Strategy include: (i) convergence of state and district implementation plans for ICDS, NHM and Swachh Bharat, (ii) focus on the most vulnerable communities in districts with the highest levels of child malnutrition, and (iii) service delivery models based on evidence of impact.

[1] National Health Policy, 2017, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, March 16, 2017,

[2] Nutrition in India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2005-06,

[3] Unstarred Question No. 2759, Lok Sabha, Answered on March 17, 2017,

[4] Helping India Combat Persistently High Rates of Malnutrition, The World Bank, May 13, 2013,

[5] Unstarred Question No. 4902, Lok Sabha, Answered on December 16, 2016,

[6] National Family Health Survey – 3, 2005-6, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

[7] National Family Health Survey – 4 , 2015-16, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,

[8] National Nutrition Strategy, 2017, NITI Aayog, September 2017,

[9] Rapid Survey On Children, Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2013-14,

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.