New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday urged the Union government to consider setting up a council for judicial infrastructure at the national level, stating that infrastructural requirements of high courts and subordinate courts in the country should not be left to the “mercy of the state governments” anymore.
“Why don’t you consider having a council for judicial infrastructure at the national level? Let us tell you that we, as judges, are least interested in having control of this body. Judges obviously are in the know of things about judiciary but we are not interested in retaining control of such a body, if constituted. We would rather like this to go to the people who are experts in managing money,” a bench, headed by justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, told additional solicitor general KM Nataraj.
The bench, which also included justices Surya Kant and Vikram Nath, was categorical that chief justices of all the high courts were in unison in judicial conferences that while they were open to all the ideas of enhancing judicial infrastructure, they did not wish to keep pursuing the state governments for funds.
“When we were recently interacting with chief justices on digitisation of court records, all of them had to say one thing — don’t send us to the state government for support. If the Centre can do it, there will be a lot of help…Don’t leave high courts to the mercy of the state governments for funds,” the bench told Nataraj, who was appearing for the Centre in a case relating to judicial infrastructure and judges’ strength at state and district levels.
The Centre and states share funds for judicial infrastructure for lower judiciary in the ratio of 60:40.
Justice Chandrachud, who is also the chairman of the E-committee of the Supreme Court, pointed to the success of various projects initiated by the E-committee with direct involvement and support of the Union government, adding that this is a perfect example of how things can improve with centralisation of projects relating to judiciary.
“Look at the enormous changes that we could bring with support of the central government in providing funds and channelising problems…There has to be an umbrella national organisation or we will have the same problem that bedevils us today,” the bench told the ASG.
It highlighted that unlike the US where state and federal judiciary deal with different categories of statutes, judiciary is India is unified. “All judges deal with both central and state statutes. You need to look at judiciary from this perspective. So, you cannot hive off problems to states. It is already not working,” the bench said.
The court also suggested that there should be a central pool of funds where states should also put in their share of 40% and the council, which may comprise the Union law minister, state law ministers, Union finance secretary and finance secretaries of all states, can manage the money.
“Judges are very conservative about spending money because they are always circumspect. They are misers when it comes to spending money. This is all public money and the judges think hundred times before spending even a single penny. So, we would rather want experts to take control of this money. We may, however, tell you our priorities about courts and infrastructure,” the bench added.
The court emphasised that “a radical change” is required to improve the conditions of courts and their infrastructure at state and district levels. “There has to be a more systemised monitoring mechanism at the Centre for disbursal of funds even for the high courts. Create a mechanism for judicial infrastructure. We are not saying you keep on funding and judges will be in-charge. Of course, litigants, lawyers and judges are consumers of this infrastructure. But you manage money,” it told Nataraj.
The court gave Nataraj three weeks to meet with all the stakeholders to discuss the proposal of a national council for judicial infrastructure. “We are all working for a better future of the institution. This is a free-flowing dialogue. We are not issuing any direction. Let there be a discussion at an appropriate level. Let us know what their thinking is.”