There have been some recent developments in the sugar sector, which pertain to the pricing of sugarcane and deregulation of the sector.  On January 31, the Cabinet approved the fair and remunerative price (FRP) of sugarcane for the 2013-14 season at Rs 210 per quintal, a 23.5% increase from last year’s FRP of Rs 170 per quintal.  The FRP of sugarcane is the minimum price set by the centre and is payable by mills to sugarcane farmers throughout the country.  However, states can also set a State Advised Price (SAP) that mills would have to pay farmers instead of the FRP. In addition, a recent news report mentioned that the food ministry has decided to seek Cabinet approval to lift controls on sugar, particularly relating to levy sugar and the regulated release of non-levy sugar. The Rangarajan Committee report, published in October 2012, highlighted challenges in the pricing policy for sugarcane.  The Committee recommended deregulating the sugar sector with respect to pricing and levy sugar. In this blog, we discuss the current regulations related to the sugar sector and key recommendations for deregulation suggested by the Rangarajan Committee. Current regulations in the sugar sector A major step to liberate the sugar sector from controls was taken in 1998 when the licensing requirement for new sugar mills was abolished.  Delicensing caused the sugar sector to grow at almost 7% annually during 1998-99 and 2011-12 compared to 3.3% annually during 1990-91 and 1997-98. Although delicensing removed some regulations in the sector, others still persist.  For instance, every designated mill is obligated to purchase sugarcane from farmers within a specified cane reservation area, and conversely, farmers are bound to sell to the mill.  Also, the central government has prescribed a minimum radial distance of 15 km between any two sugar mills. However, the Committee found that existing regulations were stunting the growth of the industry and recommended that the sector be deregulated.  It was of the opinion that deregulation would enable the industry to leverage the expanding opportunities created by the rising demand of sugar and sugarcane as a source of renewable energy. Rangarajan Committee’s recommendations on deregulation of the sugar sector Price of sugarcane: The central government fixes a minimum price, the FRP that is paid by mills to farmers.  States can also intervene in sugarcane pricing with an SAP to strengthen farmer’s interests.  States such as Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have set SAPs for the past few years, which have been higher than FRPs. The Committee recommended that states should not declare an SAP because it imposes an additional cost on mills.  Farmers should be paid a uniform FRP.  It suggested determining cane prices according to scientifically sound and economically fair principles.  The Committee also felt that high SAPs, combined with other controls in the sector, would deter private investment in the sugar industry. Levy sugar: Every sugar mill mandatorily surrenders 10% of its production to the central government at a price lower than the market price – this is known as levy sugar.  This enables the central government to get access to low cost sugar stocks for distribution through the Public Distribution System (PDS).  At present prices, the centre saves about Rs 3,000 crore on account of this policy, the burden of which is borne by the sugar sector. The Committee recommended doing away with levy sugar.  States wanting to provide sugar under PDS would have to procure it directly from the market. Regulated release of non-levy sugar: The central government allows the release of non-levy sugar into the market on a periodic basis.  Currently, release orders are given on a quarterly basis.  Thus, sugar produced over the four-to-six month sugar season is sold throughout the year by distributing the release of stock evenly across the year.  The regulated release of sugar imposes costs directly on mills (and hence indirectly on farmers).  Mills can neither take advantage of high prices to sell the maximum possible stock, nor dispose of their stock to raise cash for meeting various obligations.  This adversely impacts the ability of mills to pay sugarcane farmers in time. The Committee recommended removing the regulations on release of non-levy sugar to address these problems. Trade policy: The government has set controls on both export and import of sugar that fluctuate depending on the domestic availability, demand and price of sugarcane.  As a result, India’s trade in the world trade of sugar is small.  Even though India contributes 17% to global sugar production (second largest producer in the world), its share in exports is only 4%.  This has been at the cost of considerable instability for the sugar cane industry and its production. The committee recommended removing existing restrictions on trade in sugar and converting them into tariffs. For more details on the committee’s recommendations on deregulating the sugar sector, see here.

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.