The Lok Sabha has passed the bill to revise the salary of members of parliament. Much of the debate in the media has been on the wealth of current MPs and the lack of accountability. It is important to focus as well on structural issues related to remunerating legislators. Under the bill, the base salary of MPs is being raised to Rs.50,000 from Rs.16,000 per month. The daily allowance paid to MPs when they attend parliament is being hiked to Rs.2,000 from Rs.1,000. The constituency allowance is being increased to Rs.45,000 per month from Rs.20,000 and office expenses (for staff, stationery and postage) to Rs.45,000 per month from Rs.20,000. Pension for former MPs will be Rs.20,000 per month instead of the present Rs.8,000. Other than these, MPs get accommodation in Delhi, which varies from a hostel in Vitthalbhai Patel House to two-bedroom flats and bungalows, all in central Delhi. MPs get reimbursement of electricity, water, telephone and internet charges. They (and their family) are also reimbursed for 34 one-way air tickets from their constituency to Delhi. In a parliamentary democracy, compensation for legislators should be sufficient to ensure their independence and autonomy. It should attract professionals who can devote their full time to legislative work. There should be a sufficient support system to enable legislators perform their duties effectively. There are mainly three issues that need to be resolved while fixing the compensation package for legislators. First, MPs fix their own salaries and allowances, which results in a conflict of interest. Second, every time the salary is revised upwards, there is an adverse media and public reaction. The outcome is that MPs' salaries are significantly lower than that for any other position of similar responsibility in the public or private sector. The low salaries may deter honest persons, without other income sources, from contesting elections. Third, reimbursements of office expenses are classified as 'allowances'. Thus, expenses for office staff, telephone charges, etc. are often seen as part of their compensation. Contrast this with the treatment for government or private sector employees. The costs of office support staff, rental, communication and travel costs are not counted as their salary or perks. The process in India is similar to that in some countries. The US Congress and the German Bundestag determine their own salaries. There are two alternative approaches seen in some other democracies. Some countries appoint an independent authority to determine salaries. Some others peg the salary to that of public officials. For example, New Zealand has a remuneration tribunal which is tasked to fix salaries based on being (a) fair relative to levels of remuneration elsewhere; (b) fair to person being remunerated and the taxpayer; (c) adequate to recruit and retain competent persons. In Canada, a commission is appointed after every general election and salaries are then indexed to the federal government's annual wage rate index. Australia has a remuneration authority that links the salary to that in the Principal Executive Office. In the UK, the Senior Salaries Review Board determines salaries, which are then voted upon by parliament. The Scottish parliament indexes its salaries to that of British MPs. In France, the salary of the legislator is the average of the highest and lowest paid official in the seniormost level of the government. There were two distinct themes during last week's Lok Sabha debate. Several MPs discussed structural issues. Some MPs - L.K. Advani, Ramachandra Dome, Sanjay Nirupam, Shailendra Singh and Pinaki Misra - suggested that the government establish an independent commission for determining salaries. Advani pointed out that a decision to that effect had been taken in an all-party meeting held by the Speaker in may 2005 and demanded that the government announce the formation of such a commission before the end of the current session of parliament. Some MPs - Dhananjay Singh, Sanjay Nirupam and Shailendra Kumar -- focussed on the need for support structures such as office space, research staff and assistants in the constituency. They felt that these would help MPs examine proposed laws and rules and monitor the work of the government. Nirupam and Misra suggested that MPs' salaries be linked to performance; salaries should be cut for any time lost due to disruption. Some MPs highlighted the need for pension and accommodation for former MPs. Sharad Yadav, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary requested that the pension be raised to Rs 25,000 per month. Yadav and Bwiswmuthiary also said that former MPs be allocated residential accommodation in Delhi. The bill will next be discussed in the Rajya Sabha. The government agreed that there is merit in forming an independent commission. It is however uncertain whether the government will accede to Advani's demand that the commission be announced in the next couple of days. - M.R. Madhavan This column has been published by IANS today.

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.