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The Judiciary is the foundational organ and arguably the most important one in the functioning of any country. The operational efficiency of the judiciary, however, is often not given the same importance. Recently, however, this lackadaisical attitude toward the dispensation of judicial obligation has been called into question, with the proposal to establish The National Judicial Infrastructure Authority. To strengthen the courts of the country and take chart the way towards a well-oiled, sustainable justice system, CJI NV Ramana introduced the same. But what exactly is this authority and why is it necessary to mandate its establishment?

This article will take you through the various aspects of The National Judicial Infrastructure Authority in light of The Law Ministry’s recent comments.

National Legal Services Authority

NALSA (National Legal Services Authority )model was constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987, with the intention of creating a nationwide network that would provide competent, uniform legal services to the economically weaker sections of society. It is on this model that The National Judicial Infrastructure Authority is loosely based. NALSA organizes Lok Adalats to ensure timely resolution of legal conflicts. Moreover, it works in close cahoots with the State Legal Services Authority in order to give effect to various policies.

The Authority came into force in November 1995. In honor of the same, The Supreme Court of India announced the celebration of ‘National Legal Services Day’ in 1995.

The National Judicial Infrastructure Authority

Before delving into the importance, relevance, and future of NJIAI, it is imperative to be well-versed with its framework. The Chief Justice of India proposed NJAI along the same lines as NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) model, with a few extensions.

CJI Ramana expressed his concern over the crumbling state of judicial infrastructure in the country. He added that the environment created in the district and lower courts are hostile and uncomfortable for women advocates to work in. He further emphasized that courts, being temples of justice should be welcoming and carry the requisite dignity and aura.

The dwindling Judge to Population ratio reflects poorly on the Indian justice system. There is a stark difference between the projected judicial growth and the current growth status.

He asserted that often litigation is triggered in the first place because the executive and legislature are under-performing and not realizing their full-operational potential. He added that burdens are avoidable for the judiciary and can stay so, if the concerned authorities discharge their duties because of non-performance by various wings of the executive and the legislature not realizing 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 despite judicial orders is not good for the health of democracy and results in contempt petitions, which are a new category of a burden on the courts, and emphasized that abiding by the law and the Constitution is key to good governance.

To resolve the problems He propounded like NJIAI be placed under the jurisdiction of The Supreme Court of India, unlike NALSA, which is serviced by the Ministry of Law and Justice Services. NJIAI is directed to account for the budgeting and infrastructure development of subordinate courts throughout the country. It will not suggest any significant policy change but will give complete freedom to HCs to come up with projects to strengthen ground-level courts.

NJIAI will be constituted by High Court judges and Central government officials at the apex, whose main motive would be to maintain transparency of fund utilization. Following a similar pattern for the State Judicial Infrastructure Authority, the Chief Justice of the respective state High court would accompany nominated district court judges and state government officials.

Hindrances in Judicial Development

Legal and judicial development is paramount for any civil society. Not only is it an indicator of a strong justice system, undeterred by trivial conflicts, but it also signifies good governance. This development comes about by reinforcement and adoption of existing policies, which can only be encouraged by a sound infrastructure. Internal, external, and social factors are among many that act as hindrances to this development. While there is an overlap of the aforementioned factors when it comes to apprehensive development, it is important to first account for the tangible factors, which are:

  • Lack of Funds

The Indian Justice framework recognizes the need for funds for the long-term sustainable development of the same. To fulfill any funding requirements, there exists a Centrally Sponsored Scheme for the Development of Judicial Infrastructure. This was announced in 1993 and has since been extended to July 2021. This scheme allows the center to proportionately distribute funds among states and ensure efficiency. However, history is evidence that most states do not come forward with their demanded share of funds and consequently, money allocated is often left unspent and its viability lapses.

  • Use of Funds for Non-Judicial Purposes

As the heading suggests, states misuse allocated funds under the garb of development of their respective judiciary. A significant part of the fund gets transferred to address some more “immediate” financial shortfalls. This furthers the gap between projected development and the current infrastructure crisis.

  • The Judge-Population Ratio

Any country’s Judge to Population ratio is a reliable indicator of the same judiciary and justice infrastructure. As CJI Ramana has pointed out ever so often, the Indian ratio is alarming. While the international standard dictates 50-70 judges per a million people, the Indian justice system provides for only 21 judges per a million citizens. The backlog of cases was alarming, however, since the pandemic, the onset of virtual court proceedings has helped ease this burden.

  • Pending post fulfillment

The process of judicial appointment via the collegium is a taxing and thorough process because the said appointment is done after due diligence. However, these appointments are delayed because recommendations for the same take time. This delay inevitably leads to a delay in the delivery of justice and becomes the cause of a poor judicial system.

Frequent adjournments granted by the courts to the advocates also lead to unnecessary delays in justice.

The Need for NJIAI

Ramana proposed NJIAI as a means to catalyze mending the steep gap between expectations and the reality of the Indian Judicial System. In order to address ambiguities in constitutional functionaries, the following are the presumed functions of the NJIAI:

  • To Manage the Funds

Mismanagement of funds at the behest of officially appointed authorities is a menace, plaguing the judicial infrastructure of India. Mismanagement takes within its purview under-utilization of funds, keeping an improper account of the same, and the invested money repeating negligible benefits. For instance, during the financial year 2019-20, the Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) sanctioned Rs.982 crores (approx) to several Union Territories and States proportionally. This sanction was aimed to address the respective court infrastructures. However, only 85 crores of the same were recorded to be employed, rendering approximately 91% of the funds unused and futile.

The aforementioned issue is something that comes across CSS records routinely, since 1993.

  • Manage the Rising Number of Litigations:

The pendency of cases is a growing problem, clogging the judiciary system. This can be chalked up to a lack of special prosecutors, standing counsel, and slow, dragged-out trials and legal procedures. The current infrastructure cannot accommodate the number of litigations instituted every year. The inadequacy of said infrastructure is highlighted by the fact that the total sanctioned judge strength in India is 24,280, however, the available chambers and court halls are just 20,143, 620 out of which are rented.

  • Greater Autonomy

NJIAI will operate as the nodal agency which will facilitate the dispensation of court operations. The development of the country’s judicial infrastructure should be carried out in an undisturbed ad-hoc manner, enabled by the NJIAI, giving greater autonomy to all subordinate courts.

Law Ministry’s Recent Response

In the Monsoon Lok Sabha session, Union Law and Justice Minister, Kiren Rijiju informed the constituents that no consensus regarding The National Judicial Infrastructure Authority has been reached.

Mr.Rijiju promptly informed that The Chief Justice of India, NV Ramana had drafted a proposal expressing his will to establish NJIAI, complete with the requisites and deliverables. He also disclosed the document wherein he responded to Minister AssaudinOwaisi’s questions directed towards the Ministry, which are mentioned below:

“3363. SHRI ASADUDDIN OWAISI: Will the Minister of LAW AND JUSTICE be pleased to state:

(a) whether it is a fact that the Indian Judiciary especially High Courts and subordinate courts lacks basic infrastructure all over the country and if so, the details thereof;

(b) whether it is also a fact that 50 percent of the judicial infrastructure lacks basic amenities like ladies' toilet, purified drinking water, basic medical facilities, and video conferencing facilities in the age of e-governance, if so, the steps taken or being taken by the Government in this regard;

(c) whether the Supreme Court has recently desired for providing adequate judicial infrastructure, financial autonomy, and setting up of a National Judicial Infrastructure Authority to meet the growing needs of the judiciary; and

(d) if so, the details thereof?

ANSWER MINISTER OF LAW AND JUSTICE (SHRI KIREN RIJIJU) (a) to (d): The Registry of Supreme Court of India has compiled data on the status of judicial infrastructure and court amenities, as per which 74% of court complexes have separate ladies toilets and 84% have gents toilets, 54% of court complexes have drinking water facility with purifiers, 5% court complexes have basic medical facilities and 27% courtrooms have computer placed on judge’s dais for video conferencing facility. A proposal has been received from the Chief Justice of India for setting up of National Judicial Infrastructure Authority of India (NJIAI) for the arrangement of adequate infrastructure for courts and which will act as a Central body in laying down the road map for planning, creation, development, maintenance, and management of functional infrastructure for the Indian Court System. The proposal was sent to the various State governments/UTs, as they constitute an important stakeholder, for their views on the contours of the proposal to enable taking a considered view on the matter. The issue was also discussed in the Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices held on 30.04.2022 and after deliberations since there was no consensus the proposal was not agreed to. The primary responsibility for the development of Infrastructure facilities for the judiciary rests with the State Governments. To augment the resources of the State Governments, the Union Government has been implementing a Centrally Sponsored Scheme for the Development of Infrastructure Facilities in the district and subordinate courts by providing financial assistance to State Governments / UTs in the prescribed fund-sharing pattern. The scheme is being implemented from 1993- 94. To date, the Central Government has sanctioned Rs. 9013 crores under the Scheme to States/UTs, out of which Rs. 5569 crores has been released since 2014- 15 which is around 61.79% of the total release under the scheme. As per information made available by the High Courts as on 30.06.2022, against sanctioned strength of 24,623 and working strength of 19,313 Judicial Officers, 20,993 Court Halls and 18,502 Residential Units are available in the District and Subordinate Courts. Moreover, 2,677 Court Halls and 1,659 Residential Units are under construction as per the data available on the Nyaya Vikas portal. The Government has approved the continuance of this CSS for 5 years from 01.04.2021 to 31.03.2026, with a total budgetary outlay of Rs.9,000 crores, including the Central share of Rs.5,307 crores. The scheme components have been expanded, to also cover the construction of toilets, digital computer rooms, and Lawyers’ Hall, in addition to the Court Halls & Residential Units in the district and subordinate courts. Under the extension of the scheme and introduction of new features in the scheme, revised guidelines have been issued on 19.08.2021 for implementation of Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Development of Infrastructure Facilities for Judiciary”

Way Forward

Even after being on the receiving end of executive excesses, the courts have always given priority to law accorded individual rights and freedoms. The same system can be operated with a higher working efficiency if abuse of funds, overlooking of infrastructural needs, and pendency of appointments is resolved. The CSS has to regulate the same and routinely ensure that no lines are being crossed. Moreover, inculcation of technology into the dispensation of judicial obligations is necessary to make the process more accessible and citizen-friendly.

Judiciary is the bedrock of democracy. The Indian Justice System and its unique nature have been developed after continuous evolutions, taking into consideration the intricacies and dynamics of changing times and human nature. It would thus be a shame to let down all that the judiciary stands for, simply by virtue of its weak infrastructure, a flaw that can very well be amended.

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