The government has proposed to the Supreme Court a NEET-like examination to recruit judges to the lower judiciary.
The proposal comes close on the heels of several states, including some ruled by the BJP, opposing the formation of an all-India judicial service, a 60-year-old idea.
There were vacancies of 4,452 judges in subordinate courts in the country as per the figures released on December 31, 2015.
While the sanctioned strength is 20,502, the actual number of judges/judicial officers in subordinate courts is 16,050.
"Adoption of the model followed by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) for conducting the National- Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to undergraduate and postgraduate medical courses could also be explored.
"As per the process followed by NEET, the CBSE is responsible for conducting the entrance test, declaration of result and preparation of an all-India rank," reads a letter written by the Secretary (Justice) in the Law Ministry to the Secretary General, Supreme Court.
The ministry has suggested various models to the apex court so that vacancies in the subordinate courts are filled up fast.
Besides the NEET model, the Law Ministry has also proposed that a "centralised examination" could be held by a "recruitment body" for selection of candidates and it can work under the supervision of the Supreme Court.
It also proposed that the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) can also be asked to hold an exam to recruit judicial officers. The UPSC, it said, can modify its procedures and practices in consultation with the high courts to hold the specialised test.
The Secretary (Justice) has also suggested that some of the features followed by the Institute of Banking and Personnel Selection could also be followed to recruit judges to lower courts.
The letter is a follow-up of a meeting held on April 8 between representatives of the government and the judiciary to discuss speedy justice where the issue of vacancies in lower courts also came up for deliberation.
During the meeting, chaired by apex court judge Adarsh Goel, who heads the Arrears Committee, it was suggested that an alternative methods of recruitment, such as creation of a central selection mechanism, could be introduced.
At present, various high courts and state service commissions hold exams to recruit judicial officers.
"While there has been a gradual increase in the sanctioned strength of the subordinate judiciary...The working strength of judges is still low due to delay in filling up vacancies. This indicates that the high courts and state public service commissions are facing difficulties in filling up vacancies, which in turn contributes to delay in disposal of cases and a rise in pendency," the letter states.
The letter has since been sent to the states for their views. The matter may come up for hearing in July after the court's summer break is over.
The Centre's plan to create a national-level judicial service, on the pattern of the All-India Civil Services, was first discussed in 1960 but the plan has not taken off due to continued differences between the stakeholders.
Seven states, including BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh, have opposed the formation of an all-India judicial service.
Another BJP-ruled state, Maharashtra, wants recruitment for the all-India judicial service (AIJS) to be done in a particular manner which the Law Ministry feels is "not in consonance" with the provisions of the service included in the Constitution.
According to a Law Ministry note on AIJS circulated to members of a parliamentary consultative committee attached with the ministry, the governments of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Manipur, Odisha and Uttarakhand want major changes in the proposal formulated by the Centre.
(With PTI inputs)