New Delhi, Apr 30 (PTI) Time has come to move from ad-hoc committees to a more streamlined, accountable and organised structure by creating a National Judicial Infrastructure Authority for the standardization and improvement of judicial infrastructure which currently needs urgent attention, Chief Justice of India [CJI] N.V. Ramana said earlier today.
Speaking at the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts, CJI Ramana dispelled the apprehensions that the proposed body aims at usurping the powers of any government and shared that a National Judicial Infrastructure Authority would have representation from all the stakeholders, including the representatives of the central and state governments.
“It must however be acknowledged that it is the judiciary which best understands its own needs and requirements. Hence, the present proposal aims to bring infrastructure development under the supervision of special purpose vehicles to be headed by respective chief justices, and involve the representatives of the central and state governments”, the CJI said.
He expressed his concern over the state of judicial infrastructure, saying that the environment of some district courts is such that even women advocates feel apprehensive about entering, and emphasized that the courts, being temples of justice, should be welcoming and carry the requisite dignity and aura.
“I am of the firm belief that judicial infrastructure, both in terms of personnel and physical infrastructure, needs urgent attention…There is a severe gap between the existing infrastructure and the projected justice needs of the people. The environment of some district courts is such, even lady advocates feel apprehensive about entering court rooms, let alone female clients”, the CJI remarked.
In the joint conference of the chief ministers and the chief justices, which was held at the Vigyan Bhawan here and inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the CJI flagged several key problems faced by the Indian judiciary such as pendency, vacancies, dwindling judge-population ratio and the lack of infrastructure in courts.
CJI Ramana expressed his unease on the governments being the biggest litigants by accounting for nearly 50 per of the cases before courts and said that while the judiciary is often blamed for the pendency, there is a huge workload on the judges.
He asserted that often litigation is triggered because of non-performance by various wings of the executive and the legislature not realising its full potential, which are avoidable burdens on the judicial system, and observed if the authorities discharge their duties properly, the citizens need not approach courts.
He stated that deliberate inaction by the governments in spite of judicial orders is not good for the health of democracy and results in contempt petitions, which are a new category of burden on the courts, and emphasised that abiding by the law and the Constitution is key to good governance.
“I am aware that there are certain concerns with the judicial system also, with regard to timely delivery of justice and pendency. Pendency is often blamed on the judiciary…But a keen look at the websites of the courts will give you an idea about the huge workload on judges. The number of cases filed and disposed on each day is unimaginable”, he stated.
In his address, CJI Ramana identified a few contributing factors for docket explosion and shared that ambiguities in legislation, and the executive willingly transferring the burden of decision making to the judiciary increase the judiciary’s burden.
“The legislature is expected to solicit the views of the public and debate the bills, clause by clause, threadbare, before enacting a law. When I expressed concern about the passing of laws without much legislative scrutiny on August 15 last year, I was misunderstood by some quarters.
Let there be no doubt. I have the highest regard for the legislature and the elected representatives”, he said, and quoted Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, who had reportedly favoured debates on passage of laws.
Reminding the State’s three organs – executive, legislature and judiciary – to be “mindful of the ‘Lakshman Rekha‘ while discharging their duties”, he assured governments that “the judiciary would never come in the way of governance, if it is in accordance with law“.
“We share your anxiety and concern regarding the welfare of the people,” Justice Ramana said.
Dwelling further, he said all constitutional functionaries abide by the constitutional mandate as the Constitution provides for separation of powers between the three organs, clearly outlining their sphere of functioning, and delineating their powers and responsibilities.
“Although policy making is not our domain, but if a citizen comes to the court with a prayer to address his grievance, the courts cannot say no”, he said.
“It is beyond my understanding as to why intra- and inter-departmental disputes of the government or fights between [public sector undertakings] and the government end up in courts. If service laws are applied fairly in matters of seniority, pension and so on, no employee will be compelled to go to courts. It is a well acknowledged fact that the governments are the biggest litigants accounting for nearly 50 per cent of the cases”, the CJI said.
He further lamented the lack of special prosecutors and standing counsels, court decisions not being implemented by governments for years together, and the rush to implement executive decisions without seeking opinion of legal departments.
CJI Ramana urges improvement in judge-to-population ratio
CJI Ramana highlighted the issue of judicial vacancies and urged the chief justices of high courts to improve the judge-to-population ratio so that it is comparable to advanced democracies.
Ramana said that as on today, out of 1,104 sanctioned posts of high court judges, there are 388 vacancies.
He said an important factor in promoting access to justice is filling up of judicial vacancies and increasing the sanctioned strength of judges.
“From day one, it has been my endeavour to fill judicial vacancies. We have made 180 recommendations for appointments in various high courts last year. Out of these, 126 appointments have been made. I thank the Government of India for clearing the names.
However, 50 proposals are still awaiting approval by the Government of India. The high courts have sent around 100 names to the Government of India. They are yet to reach us. The data reveals the earnest efforts being made by the judiciary to fill the vacancies,” the CJI said.
He urged the chief ministers to extend “wholehearted” cooperation to the Chief Justices of high courts in their endeavour to strengthen the district judiciary.
“When we last met in 2016, the sanctioned strength of judicial officers in the country was 20,811. Now, it is 24,112, which is an increase of 16 per cent in six years. On the other hand, in the corresponding period, pendency (of cases) in district courts has gone up from 2 crore 65 lakh to 4 crore 11 lakh, which is an increase of 54.64 per cent. This data shows how inadequate the increase in the sanctioned strength is,” Ramana said.
The CJI said unless the foundation is strong, the structure cannot be sustained.
“Please be generous in creating more posts and filling the same, so that our judge-to-population ratio is comparable to advanced democracies. As per sanctioned strength, we have just around 20 judges per 10 lakh population, which is alarmingly low,” he said.
Referring to Attorney General K.K. Venugopal’s statement at a Supreme Court Bar Association event yesterday, the CJI highlighted the issue of vacancies and pendency of cases.
Venugopal had said that 40 million cases are pending before trial courts, while 4.2 million civil cases and 1.6 million criminal cases are pending at high courts.
“How do you expect that we would be able to even make a dent in the pendency of cases?” he had asked.
PIL has turned into personal interest litigation: CJI Ramana
CJI Ramana expressed concern over frivolous litigations in courts, and said the concept of public interest litigation [PIL] has now turned into personal interest litigation and is at times being misused to stall projects or put pressure on public authorities
“These days, PIL has become a tool for those who want to settle political scores or corporate rivalry. Realising the potential for misuse, courts are now highly cautious in entertaining the same,” he said.
CJI Ramana further said that “Indianisation of the justice delivery system” is needed by moulding the system to suit the needs and sensibilities of the common Indian population.
He advocated the need of setting up of the National Judicial Infrastructure Authority and the State Judicial Infrastructure Authorities along the lines of the National Legal Services Authority and state legal service authorities to meet the growing need of infrastructures in courts.
“Let me make it very clear. This is not about funds. I must acknowledge that the Union Government has been making reasonable budgetary allocation…The time has come to move on from the present ad-hoc committees to a more streamlined, accountable and organised structure, he said, adding that the proposal was not “aimed at usurping powers of any”.
The 11th Chief Justices-Chief Ministers’ conference was held after a gap of six years following yesterday’s 39th Chief Justices’ conference, with an “aim and object to discuss and identify the problems that are affecting the administration of justice”.