The report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice was tabled in the recently concluded winter session of Parliament. In its report, the committee has recommended ensuring at least 50 per cent representation for women in the judiciary. Referring to the current representation of women, the panel said that only 73 women judges were working in various High Courts of the country and they made up just 10.89 per cent of the total strength of High Court judges. The committee notes in the report that only six women judges have appointed to the Supreme Court, the first in 1989.
In its issue dated 8 May 2015, FORWARD Press had published an article titled “Gender injustice in judiciary” by senior Supreme Court lawyer and feminist writer Arvind Jain, questioning the poor representation of women in the judiciary. Jain wrote: “Indian Republic is 65 years old and in these ‘glorious 65 years’ no women could reach or was not allowed to reach the position of Chief Justice of India. Given the present status, no woman would be able to become Chief Justice at least until August 2022.”
The parliamentary committee, in its report, has admitted that the share of women in judiciary is much less than desirable. In his article, Arvind Jain had given an example: “It was 40 years after the promulgation of the Indian Constitution that, on 6 October 1989, Fathima Beevi became the first woman judge of the Supreme Court. She retired in 1992. Thereafter, Sujata V. Manohar (1984), Ruma Pal (2000), Gyan Sudha Mishra (2010), Ranjana Prakash Desai (2011) and R. Banumathi (2014) were appointed judges of the apex court. In the past 65 years, of the 219 Supreme Court judges (41 retired CJIs, 150 retired judges and 28 serving judges), only 6 (2.7 per cent) have been women.”
Subsequently, many articles and interviews raising the issue were published in the media. For instance, in June 2016, news agency VNI published a long interview of Arvind Jain by Shobhna Jain. Jain wondered whether it was by default or design that in the 66 years of the Indian Republic, no woman could become CJI. He observed then that there would be no woman CJI until November 2024.
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In his article published in FORWARD Press, Jain had also pointed out that in the year 2000, a woman could have become the CJI but that was not to be: “The golden jubilee of the Supreme Court was celebrated. On 29 January that year, CJI A.S. Anand was to administer the oath to three new judges – Doraiswamy Raju, Ruma Pal and Y.K. Sabharwal. For inexplicable reasons – some say owing to the golden jubilee celebrations – the swearing-in day was advanced to 28 January. Doraiswamy Raju and Y.K. Sabharwal were sworn in the morning while Ruma Pal could take the oath only in the evening. That was because she was informed late about the change in the swearing-in date. Raju and Sabharwal had, however, received the information in time. On that day itself, it was decided that but for some act of god, Doraiswamy Raju (born 2 July 1939) would retire in January 2004, and after the retirement of R.C. Lahoti as the CJI on 1 November 2005, Y.K. Sabharwal (born 14 January 1942) would become the CJI and would continue on that post till 13 January 2007. It was also decided that Ruma Pal (born 3 June 1941) would retire as Supreme Court judge on 2 June 2006. The delay in informing Ruma Pal about the preponed swearing-in date altered the direction of India’s judicial history.”
Now, the parliamentary committee has recommended that suitable measures be taken for a larger presence of women in the higher and lower judiciary. It has also recommended an additional quota for women in the five-year law-degree courses being run by national law universities, in the vein of the IITs.
The committee has also expressed concern over the large number of vacancies in the High Courts. The report says that 56 posts of judges are lying vacant in the Allahabad High Court, 38 in Karnataka High Court, 39 in Calcutta High Court, 35 in Punjab and Haryana High Court, 30 in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh High Court and 24 in Bombay High Court.
Now that the parliamentary committee has admitted that the representation of women in the judiciary is very low and has recommended measures to rectify the situation, it remains to be seen whether and when gender injustice in judiciary will be brought to an end and women will get their valid share.
Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil
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