Chief Justice T.S. Thakur made an emotive appeal to the government on Sunday, to have more judges to ensure justice for all.
His concern prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to promise he will tackle "the serious concerns".
Addressing a conference of chief ministers, chief justices of high courts and Supreme Court judges, Chief Justice Thakur said country's judiciary suffered from a poor judge-population ratio and serious vacancies even as it dealt with an "avalanches of cases".
Ratio was dismal compared to even other developed countries, he said, looking at the prime minister who was on the dais.
Chief justice took on the government over the failure to come up with judicial reforms, and said that judges should be told to work extra years when they retire, and hit out at the "commercial courts".
"It is not enough to criticise. You can't shift the entire burden on judges," he said, pointing out that in American Supreme Court nine judges together decided 81 cases in a year whereas a judge in the Indian Supreme Court decided 2,600 cases a year.
"The only remedy is to establish more courts and increase the strength of the judges to 50 judges per million population."
PM Modi offered to set up a panel of government officers and people from the judiciary to address the issues. "I will make efforts to address the serious concerns."
Chief justice said India cannot achieve economic growth without a robust judiciary overseen by an adequate number of judges. This was also needed to attract foreign capital.
"Those whom we are inviting (to invest) are also concerned with the judicial system and justice delivery," he said. "Efficacy of the judicial system is so vitally connected with the development of the country."
He moaned that the suggestions of the apex court collegium for appointing more judges were pending with the government but "nothing really appears to be moving".
Justice delivery system was an illusion for 30 percent of population living below poverty line, he said.
He said more than 38 lakh cases were pending in the high courts and asked: "What is the way out?"
"We must do whatever is possible to reduce the pendency of the cases. The jails are full and overflowing."