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Supreme Court has more breaks than working days

By Rana Ajit

New Delhi, Nov 11 (IANS) Ever wondered what is common between school-going children and the high priests of judiciary? Saturdays, Sundays and “a lot of fun-days”, feel a section of lawyers.

As per the Supreme Court’s calendar for 2007, out of the 365 days a year, the Supreme Court has only 176 working days. The remaining 189 days – more than half the year – are holidays.

They include roughly 104 Saturdays and Sundays, nearly two-and-a-half months of summer vacation, a fortnight of winter vacation besides several other offs, ranging from a day to a week. And all this in the backdrop of a huge backlog of cases.

“Even the highest US court, where individual judges do not have to adjudicate more than 150 cases a year, does not have more than three to four months of holidays,” said senior advocate K.K. Venugopal.

The Supreme Court is currently on a weeklong Diwali vacation, which began Nov 5. The apex court will reopen Oct 12.

The ongoing apex court vacation has come barely a fortnight after the Dussehra break from Oct 15 to Oct 20. Beginning Dec 17, the Supreme Court will have the usual fortnight-long winter break till Jan 1.

The British legacy of a nearly two-month-long summer vacation – the mother of all vacations of the apex court – continuing year after year since Independence can leave even children bored to death. The apex court had its summer vacation from May 21 to July 8 this year.

Its holiday calendar compares well with the vacations of Delhi schools. For instance, Delhi’s Somerville School like most schools in the national capital had a summer vacation from May 15 to July 1, only a day’s holiday on Dussehra and a two-day break for Diwali.

As per the provisions of the Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, 1958, besides the apex court’s holidays and vacations, its individual judges are entitled to their own quota of leaves.

Depending upon the number of years a judge puts in the service, he — there is no female judge at present in the apex court — is entitled to certain days of leave on full salary, certain other offs on half salary and some more days off on one quarter salary.

“True, the apex court does have a lot of Sundays and fun-days. But what is worse is the fact that some judges have no qualms in going on foreign jaunts in the middle of hearings of important cases,” senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan told IANS.

The long vacations continue in the Supreme Court despite the fact that in recent times, the backlog of cases has registered a rising trend.

Data from the Department of Justice reveals that the total number of cases pending in the apex court had come down to 19,806 in 1998 from a whopping 104,936 in 1991. But it’s rising again. In the beginning of 2006, it had risen to around 29,000 and by the end of October 2007, it had gone up to 45,290.

Despite the rising number of pending cases in the Supreme Court, senior lawyer P.P. Rao defended the long vacations saying: “One has to remember that apex court judges have tremendous work pressure.

“Every day a bench of two to three judges hears around 50 matters. The cases listed on Mondays go up to 70 while it’s around 40 on Fridays. They also have to read the voluminous files every evening before hearing them the next day,” said Rao.

“They also need time to write judgements, which cannot be written in open courts. And they end up doing all this work during holidays or vacations, which they very much deserve.”

But Venugopal said: “It’s true that Supreme Court judges end up doing a lot of work at home and in their chambers when they are not in the court rooms. Yet, the apex court needs to arrest the rising trend of a backlog in cases and reducing their long vacations may be one way out.”