Recently, the Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare submitted its report to the Parliament on the National Commission for Human Resource for Health Bill, 2011. The objective of the Bill is to “ensure adequate availability of human resources in the health sector in all states”. It seeks to set up the National Commission for Human Resources for Health (NCHRH), National Board for Health Education (NBHE), and the National Evaluation and Assessment Council (NEAC) in order to determine and regulate standards of health education in the country. It separates regulation of the education sector from that of professions such as law, medicine and nursing, and establishes professional councils at the national and state levels to regulate the professions. See here for PRS Bill Summary. The Standing Committee recommended that this Bill be withdrawn and a revised Bill be introduced in Parliament after consulting stakeholders. It felt that concerns of the professional councils such as the Medical Council of India and the Dental Council of India were not adequately addressed. Also, it noted that the powers and functions of the NCHRH and the National Commission on Higher Education and Research (to be established under the Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011 to regulate the higher education sector in the country) were overlapping in many areas. Finally, it also expressed concern over the acute shortage of qualified health workers in the country as well as variations among states and rural and urban areas. As per the 2001 Census, the estimated density of all health workers (qualified and unqualified) is about 20% less than the World Health Organisation’s norm of 2.5 health workers per 1000 population. See here for PRS Standing Committee Summary. Shortfall of health workers in rural areas Public health care in rural areas is provided through a multi-tier network. At the lowest level, there are sub health-centres for every population of 5,000 in the plains and 3,000 in hilly areas. The next level consists of Primary Health Centres (PHCs) for every population of 30,000 in the plains and 20,000 in the hills. Generally, each PHC caters to a cluster of Gram Panchayats. PHCs are required to have one medical officer and 14 other staff, including one Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM). There are Community Health Centres (CHCs) for every population of 1,20,000 in the plains and 80,000 in hilly areas. These sub health centres, PHCs and CHCs are linked to district hospitals. As on March 2011, there are 14,8124 sub health centres, 23,887 PHCs and 4809 CHCs in the country.[i] Sub-Health Centres and Primary Health Centres
Table 1: State-wise comparison of vacancy in PHCs
Doctors at PHCs
ANM at PHCs and Sub-Centres
|State||Sanctioned post||Vacancy||% of vacancy||Sanctioned post||Vacancy||% of vacancy|
|Andaman & Nicobar Isld||40||12||30||214||0||0|
|Dadra & Nagar Haveli||6||0||NA||40||0||0|
|Daman & Diu||3||0||NA||26||0||0|
|Jammu & Kashmir||750||0||NA||2282||0||0|
|Sources: National Rural Health Mission (available here), PRS.Note: The data for all states is as of March 2011 except for some states where data is as of 2010. For doctors, these states are Bihar, UP, Mizoram and Delhi. For ANMs, these states are Odisha and Uttar Pradesh.|
Community Health Centres
Table 2: Vacancies in CHCs of medical specialists
% of vacancy
|Andaman & NicobarIsland||100||100||100||100|
|Dadra & Nagar Haveli||0||0||0||0|
|Daman & Diu||0||100||0||100|
|Jammu & Kashmir||34||34||53||63|
|Sources: National Rural Health Mission (available here), PRS.|
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.