By Dr G.V. Rao
The Law Commission of India performs the important function of bringing about law reforms. It is empowered to recommend legislative reforms with a view to clarify, consolidate and codify particular branches of law where the government felt the necessity for it. So far, 21 Law Commissions have been constituted and have scripted 262 reports. There needs to be a study as to how governments have utilised the wisdom and advise provided by them.
The well-known adage by William Ewart Gladstone—“Justice delayed is justice denied”—had been taken seriously way back in the 80s of the previous century when the 127th Law Commission Report scripted under the Chairmanship of the eminent Justice D.A. Desai, which was forwarded to the law minister in June 1988. In his letter, he states that legal reforms were suggested by them in the form of three reports, namely the 120th, 121st and the 127th. The first two were “Manpower planning in Judiciary – a blue print” and “A new forum for Judicial Appointments”, respectively.
It is indeed unfortunate and disappointing that such erudite, well-researched and thoughtful advice given by way of voluminous work with regard to judicial administration, remained unattended and left to gather dust by the government of the day. Chairman Desai said: “I would therefore request you to treat all the three reports herein discussed as a package and they may be implemented almost simultaneously because one without the other is likely to give a distorted picture.”
He had also stated that the latest report dealt with the “problem of court houses, other expanded facilities and additional ministerial staff. All of which would result in higher demand on the Exchequer under the heading ‘Judicial Administration’ both at central and state levels. Being aware of the resources constraints, this report also deals with areas where more funds can be generated to be specifically earmarked for judicial administration”.
Neglect on the part of the government for judicial reforms affects citizens’ rights and democracy. In order to zealously uphold these fundamental aspects of governance of a free country, the Parliament and the government ought not to waste a single minute in their implementation. It is because of the lack of such attention that there have been pendency and delays in the administration of justice. This ultimately brings suffering to litigants and defeats the very purpose of approaching the court.
Ultimately, it is the honest and law-abiding citizen who suffers the most. He stands to suffer twice over, firstly being at the receiving end of unscrupulous, mischievous and callous individuals and institutions and thereafter, treading the torturous path of prolonged, delayed and unfruitful relief measures.
In the light of what has transpired in the last three decades, the chief justice’s immense concern regarding infrastructure development is of extraordinary importance and must be taken extremely seriously by the government. In fact, the 245th Law Commission report presented in 2014 focused on the connected issue of providing greater human resources, which was titled as “Arrears and backlog: creating additional Judicial (Wo)man power”. Obviously in order to deal with greater human resources, greater infrastructure would be required.
In the Budget in February 2020, there was substantial reduction in all areas of the judicial hierarchy—allocation for gram nayaylyas and other court infrastructure was reduced from Rs 990 crore to Rs 762 crore. Funds earmarked for autonomous bodies, which includes the National Judicial Academy, National Legal Services Authority, Indian Law Institute and the New Delhi International Arbitration Centre, were reduced from Rs 159 crore to Rs 117 crore. Thereafter, the total budgetary allocation for the ministry of law and justice was reduced from Rs 3,173.36 crore to Rs 2,200 crore. All this amounts to a reduction of massive budgetary cut of over Rs 1,000 crore, which will deliver a body blow to the administration of justice. It is learnt that this reduction was made in order to meet the already incurred expenses for the May 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
It is surprising that these budgetary cuts to fund election expenditure are being made to judicial administration. This calls for a review by the finance ministry and Parliament whether they should be interfering with the financial allocations to such an important branch of the government at all. The already neglected area of “judicial administration” would suffer greatly in view of such thoughtless indiscretions.
A case study of court management in India by Prof (Dr.) Kalpesh Kumar L Gupta of Gujarat National Law University found that due to budgetary reductions and non-allocation/utilisation of funds, the efficient and speedy functioning of courts was getting affected. A review of the Finance Commission allocations in the previous years showed a marked increase in the funds for the improvement of court infrastructure, whereas during the present times they stood massively slashed. The overall allocations have been as follows:
The 13th Finance Commission (2010-15) allocated Rs 5,000 crore. For state judiciary for heads like morning/ evening courts (Rs 2,500 crore), Lok Adalat & Legal Aid (Rs 300 crore), training for judicial officers (Rs 250 crore), training for public prosecutors (Rs 150 crore), Heritage Court Building (Rs 450 crore), State Judicial Academy (Rs 300 crore), ADR Centres (Rs 750 crore) and Court Managers (Rs 300 crore).
In the 14th Finance Commission (2015-20) proposal, Rs 9,775 crore was proposed by the Department of Justice for segments like additional courts (Rs 859 crore), fast track courts (Rs 4,144 crore.), family courts (Rs 541 crore), redesigning existing courts (Rs 1,400 crore), technical manpower (Rs 500 crore), scanning and digitisation (Rs 752.5 crore), law schools (Rs 50.50 crore), Lok Adalat (Rs 100 crore), ADR Centres (Rs 300 crore), mediators (Rs 503 crore) and capacity building (Rs 625 crore). It is pertinent to note that no fund was proposed for court managers across the country.
A cursory glance shows that there is an ever-growing need for greater budgetary allocations for judicial administration. This was given due attention and thoughtful recognition by the Finance Commissions. Not only do citizens’ rights suffer, but many times even government and industry suffer due to non-resolution of disputes and revenues in the form of direct and direct taxes which get held up in courts. For private industry, payments and receipts get held up due to prolonged disputes between parties, which ultimately impacts the economy in a big way.
In the light of the above discussion, it’s important to note the emphasis laid by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and the points he has flagged recently. He said: “If you want a different outcome from the judicial system, we cannot continue to work in this present condition.”
He further said that judicial infrastructure is “important for improving access to justice”, but “it is baffling to note that the improvement and maintenance of judicial infrastructure is still being carried out in an ad hoc and unplanned manner…. People’s faith in the judiciary is the biggest strength of democracy”. He also said: “Good judicial infrastructure for courts in India has always been an afterthought” and “it is because of this mindset that courts in India still operate from dilapidated structures, making it difficult to effectively perform their function”.
There has been woeful neglect of appointment and enhancement of the sanctioned strength of total judicial officers in the country, which as per latest reports, is 24,280, while the number of court halls available is 20,143 (including 620 rented halls). Twenty-six percent of court complexes do not have separate ladies’ toilets and 16% do not have gents’ toilets. Only 54% of court complexes have purified drinking water facility and only 5% have basic medical facilities. Only 32% of courtrooms have separate record rooms, while only 27% have computers placed on the judge’s dais with video-conferencing facility.
Besides this, over 3,900 judges serving in trial courts live in rented accommodation. There are also no meeting halls for judges in at least 83% of courts and only 51% have library facilities for judicial officers.
The CJI also said he had sent a proposal for establishment of a National Judicial Infrastructure Authority to the law ministry, and he was hoping for a positive response soon. He urged the law minister to expedite the process and ensure that the proposal is taken up in the winter session of Parliament.
Therefore, it is imperative, given the current state of affairs in the judiciary, that provision for adequate judicial infrastructure is closely connected with the need for proper budgetary planning. In the chief justices’ conference held in April 2016, it was decided that chief justices must adopt proactive steps to:
(a) identify the infrastructural needs of the state judiciary by developing suitable five-year and annual action plans for the future
(b) ensure the completion of under construction projects pending for three or more years on a mission mode basis
(c) ensure timely completion of projects for the construction of court complexes and residential accommodation, particularly for judges in the district judiciary
(d) constitute a committee of three judges of the High Court, where the chief secretary and secretaries of the departments of finance, public works and law are co-opted as members. This will help to closely monitor the timely completion of projects and to facilitate a proper coordination between officials at the district level and the decision-making authorities of the state government
(e) constitute district level committees consisting of district judges and portfolio judges in-charge of the districts
(f) create a mechanism for monthly reporting and monitoring of work and the proper utilisation of allocated funds. It was further resolved that on-line updation of progress made in creating and upgrading infrastructure by all High Courts, be adopted.
Therefore, the CJI mooting the proposal of setting up a National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation (NJIC) is a timely and welcome step for a variety of reasons. To develop judicial infrastructure, funds are extended by the central government and states under the centrally sponsored Scheme for Development of Judiciary Infrastructure. Under the scheme, the ratio of fund sharing between the centre and state is 60:40 for all states except those in the Northeast and the Himalayan region, where it is 90:10.
The NJIC can be an autonomous body dealing with infrastructural requirements of the entire judiciary. It can ensure that necessary funds allocated by both central and state governments are carefully expended for the planned requirements. The Corporation could also independently carry out upgradation works so that the money allocated under the scheme is not left unspent. This will also prevent states from transferring part of the funds for non-judicial purposes. The execution of the infrastructure projects could be carried out by a professional body. It would then not be left to judicial authorities as they are ill-equipped and untrained to do so.
Therefore, the creation of a corporation (NJIC) to carry out the long pending and overdue upgrading of judicial structure would be the most transformative step towards management of judicial administration catering to the urgent needs of the citizens and the government. If this is achieved at the earliest, then the chief justice would be hailed as a momentous leader of the judiciary and a harbinger of outstanding reform.
—The writer is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India