CJI Thakur brings the focus on huge backlog of 30 million cases
Article140.png”” alt=””Article140″” />Things have come to such a pass that there is a backlog of 30 million cases. It was finally left to the Chief Justice of India Justice T S Thakur to make an emotion appeal to the Narendra Modi government to rectify matters speedily at a meeting of chief ministers and Chief Justices of the High Courts in the national capital last Sunday. If the Prime Minister was caught on the wrong foot, he wasted no time in having a closed door session with the CJI to sort out matters. The judiciary and the centre as well as the states will have to work in concert without wasting time in dealing with the backlog issue on a priority basis. Let us not forget the adage that “”justice delayed is justice denied”” especially as those large number of undertrials continue to languish in jails without bail. The talk of the judiciary being overburdened has been going on for years with decision makers inexplicably compounding matters.
Allowing matters to drift in respect of one of the main pillars of the democratic system is rather disconcerting. The role of the states cannot be undermined. This is particularly so when the litigant and especially the teeming poor have to wait endlessly for justice being entirely at the mercy of the lawyers and the judges. The judiciary and the executive have to accept responsibility for the abysmal state of affairs because of the crumbling and poor infrastructure facilities, dilatory judicial procedures and non-cooperative lawyers who have a vested interest in seeking repeated adjournments which is summarily granted.
Despite these burgeoning problems legal experts acknowledge that the judiciary has performed admirably having seen through some tumultuous times and emerged with flying colours. Nearly three decades back in 1987 the Law Commission had recommended the appointment of at least 30,000 judges. That figure has now risen to 40,000. It reflects poorly on how well the rule of law is implemented.
Sample the statistics of the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB). In 2014 there were nearly 418000 people crammed in jails all over the country. This is nearly 100000 in excess of the capacity of 356000. What is shocking is that 67% of them are undertrials. The situation is alarming while the political class is on its own trip and the common refrain of the judiciary is that it is overburdened.
As chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi had suggested that judges should reduce their leave and extend their working hours to reduce the backlog. Even though this would not have erased the humongous backlog but certainly gone some distance in reducing it. Even though it is accepted that any person is innocent until proven guilty, the reality of daily life is entirely different when it comes to an alleged criminal. Lets consider what needs to be done urgently. The country requires no less than at least 50 judges for every million people but the present strength is barely 15-16 judges.
The BJP-led NDA government appears to be dragging its feet on the 170 odd names for being appointed as High Court judges recommended by the Collegium of the Apex Court. Last year in October the Modi government suffered a setback when the Supreme Court rejected the National Judicial Appointments Committee Act and the 99th Constitutional Amendment which sought to give politicians and civil society a final say in the appointment of judges to the highest courts.
“”It is difficult to hold that the wisdom of appointment of judges can be shared with the poitical executive. In India the organic development of civil society, has not as yet sufficiently evolved. The expectation from the judiciary, to safeguard the rights of the citizens of this country, can only be ensured by keeping it absolutely insulated and independent, from the other organs of governance,”” Justice J S Khehar, the presiding judge on the five-judge bench, affirmed in his separate judgement.
In a majority of 4:1, the bench rejected the NJAC Act and the Constitution Amendment as “”unconstitutional and void.”” It held that the collegium system, as it existed before the NJAC, would again become operative. The Bench admitted that all is not well even with the collegium system of “”judges appointing judges””, and that the time is ripe to improve the 21-year-old system of judicial appointments.
A disappointed Union Law minister Sadananda Gowda observed the NJAC was backed fully by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. It had 100 per cent support of the people. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi described the judgement as flawed as it ignored the unanimous will of Parliament, half the State Legislatures and the will of the people for transparency in judicial appointments. One wonders if the judiciary is considered as a non-productive organ of the state as less than one per cent of the union budget is spent on it.
At the same time the government’s initiative might be laudable in setting up commercial courts without separate manpower and infrastructure for it. The unfortunate part is nearly seven decades after gaining independence, access to affordable and timely justice remains a distant dream. On his part Justice Thakur has alluded to making amends, if needed, in the Collegium. This might moment for the Centre in undertaking direly needed reforms in the country’s obsolete land laws. To sustain fast growth India needs to overhaul its legal infrastructure. There is need for expanding the lower judiciary in all the states along with speeding up the judicial process.
Technology needs to be exploited to meet fresh challenges in the judiciary along with ensuring that access to law is widened along with infusing necessary confidence in the justice system.”