- The Indian judiciary is the most important organ of the country that acts as the guardian of safeguarding the rights of the citizens.
- However, the environment of our judiciary is not effective enough to serve its purposes. A number of challenges threaten the country's judicial development.
- The new Chief Justice of India, Justice N. V. Ramana had stressed on the establishment of a National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation, which can help in getting easy access to justice.
- CJI Ramana had shared many insightful opinions and thoughts on several occasions, and recently, in an event held in the Allahabad High Court, he emphasized on the need for a strengthened judicial infrastructure.
The first Supreme Court of India was established around more than two centuries ago in 1774 at Calcutta. However, it was only post-Independence when we officially recognised an Apex Court in 1951. Since then, the Indian judiciary witnessed tremendous growth and development. Our country has recognized three organs, namely the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judiciary, for the smooth functioning of the government. While the Legislature is authorized to make laws for the welfare of the state, the Executive has to implement the same. The Judiciary has a unique role. Whenever, the Legislature or the Executive organs do any unlawful act or, as the case may be, omit to do a lawful act that interferes with the rights of a common citizen, the Judiciary can be approached for seeking remedy.
This means that the judicial system in India is the most powerful organ which protects our rights and privileges from manipulation and infringement. However, what if this mouthpiece of the welfare state is not well-organized and systematically designed? It would cause disconcert within the Judiciary, as well as in the society as a whole. Actually, this is the current state of Indian courts. Though our forefathers had clearly formed the hierarchy of courts and have distinguished their powers and duties, yet there has been no proper execution of the same.
Indian courts are caught in the traps of litigation delay and other problems. There are crores of cases pending before various courts. This, in turn, delays in giving justice to the victim. Imagine if you became a victim of a crime and you file a case against it. What if the case gets delayed for more than 20 years? Do you really find it appropriate? Does this really serve the purpose of administering justice? The answer is simply "No". There is a famous phrase that reads- "Justice delayed is Justice denied". There is no need to give any special mention of this statement as it is already a speaking phrase. So, if justice is delayed, it is best interpreted as not served.
However, it is absurd to absolutely blame the Judicial System for the plight of the courts today. Though lack of effectiveness and efficiency from its part is a major concern, yet the ignorance of the government is a cause too.
- Pending Cases: At present, there are around 4.5 crore pending cases in India, of which 3.9 crore cases are pending before the subordinate courts and 58. 5 lakh cases are pending before the various High Courts. In the Top Court too, there are more than 69,000 pending cases. Former Supreme Court Judge Justice Markandey Katju, back in 2019, opined that even if no fresh cases are filed, it would still take about 360 years to clear the backlog of cases.
- Inadequacy in the Bench: The Supreme Court has a total number of 34 Judges. Though this is an increase as compared to the initial period, when there were only 11 justices in the Top Court, yet this is not an adequate representation when related to the vast population and the increasing number of pending cases. Similarly, the number of judges in the High Courts and other lower courts is also considerably low.
- Poor Infrastructure: Infrastructure for any sector is essential for its smooth functioning. The judicial infrastructure, especially in the lower courts, is not up to the expected range due to lack of budgetary allocation and ignorance by the Government. In 2016, the Supreme Court released a report in which it was stated that the existing infrastructure of the court accommodates only 15,540 judicial officers against the sanctioned strength of more than 20,000 officers. Moreover, reportedly, it was stated that the Government allocates less than 10% of its GDP for improving the judicial infrastructure.
Insights from the New Chief Justice of India
Over the years, we have witnessed a number of Chief Justices of India who had created a strong mark in the development of the country's legal system. In this line, Chief Justice N. V. Ramana who succeeded Justice S. A. Bobde, has already labelled him as one of the most qualified Justices. He is well known for his landmark judgements that upheld the principles of our Constitution. He was also a part of the Bench that brought the CJI's office within the Right to Information Act.
His appointment as the 48th Chief Justice of India was welcomed by many legal luminaries as they viewed it as crucial in this unprecedented state. Justice Ramana had, or perhaps has, a number of challenges that he needs to address as the CJI. The growing pending cases, increasing vacancies, online hearings, the COVID-19 pandemic, etc. are some of the confrontations before him.
Ever since he had taken oath as the Chief Justice of India, Justice Ramana has expressed his concerns over a lot more issues affecting the performance of the courts in India. Below are some of the insightful opinions of Justice Ramana:
- The judiciary cannot be controlled, directly or indirectly, by the legislature or the executive. If otherwise, the Rule of Law would become illusory.
- After 75 years of Independence, when at least 50% representation is expected for women at all levels, I say with great difficulty that we have now achieved 11% representation of women in the Apex Court.
- The legal community must participate actively in social and public life, and do some good service.
- Threats to human rights and bodily integrity are the highest in police stations, even the privileged class is not spared from 3rd degree treatment. Lack of effective legal representation at the police stations is a huge detriment to arrested or detained persons.
- Lawyers, being the crusaders for rights, are undoubtedly an important wheel in the chariot of justice.
- It is well recognized that the mere right to change the ruler, once every few years, by itself is not a guarantee against tyranny.
- He also expressed that the discussions that are held on various social media platforms do affect institutions, including the judiciary.
- Citizens have the ‘right to participate in the creation and refinement of laws’ that regulate their behaviors. We live in a democracy, the very essence of which is the citizenry role to play, whether directly or indirectly, in the laws that govern them.
- The democratic rights that we take today for granted are a result of the struggles of thousands of young people who took to the streets fighting authoritarian figures either during the freedom struggle or the dark days of Emergency. Many lost their lives, sacrificed lucrative careers, all for the greater good of the nation and society. Trust the youth to check the deviations in a society’s journey towards peace and progress.
National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation: CJ's Dream Project
Infrastructure has a wider meaning in general. With respect to the judicial system, it includes both the judicial as well as non-judicial assistance. From court buildings to basic Wi-Fi connection, every single facility necessary for the court's smooth functioning is dependent on infrastructure. The duty to improve judicial infrastructure is in the hands of the State Governments, with some aid and assistance from the Centre.
Chief Justice Ramana had stressed on strengthening our judicial infrastructure several times, since the day he had taken the oath of the Chief Justice’s office. On 8th June 2021, CJI Ramana wrote a letter to the Department of Law, Justice, Communication, Electronics, and IT, and brought their attention to the problems in the judicial system amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He expressed his concern over the inequality in accessibility to digitalism in India, particularly between the urban and rural people. Further, he laid his emphasis on the institution of a National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation which could help to shrink the gaps in judicial digitalism.
It is worthy to note that our CJI has been insisting on improvising the judicial infrastructure not only post his appointment as CJI but even before that. He wanted the Centre and the states to cooperate and come together to create a National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation which could help in catering the needs for judicial infrastructure in the country. Such a corporation would ensure uniformity and standardization in revolutionizing judicial infrastructure, he opined.
In a felicitation function organized by the Bar Council of India, our CJI stated that our country's judicial system is suffering from infrastructure deficiency, along with other problems like high number of vacancies of judges and shortage of staff.
“We need to strengthen the judicial infrastructure”: Highlights of CJI’s Latest Speech at the Allahabad High Court
The foundation stone laying ceremony of the “Advocates Chambers and Multi-level Parking” and the National Law University to be constructed at Prayagraj, Allahabad was held on 11th September 2021 at the Allahabad High Court. Chief Justice of India, Justice N. V. Ramana attended the ceremony as the chief guest along with other prominent leaders, including our President Ram Nath Govind and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
While addressing the meet, Chief Justice Ramana expressed his displeasure on the court infrastructure, and was disquieted by the prevailing work environment for court staff and judges. He said that the country has failed to focus on providing good infrastructure for the courts after Independence.
In this context, he expressed his concern for the establishment of a National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation that would help in developing and implementing the National Court Development Project. It is important to strengthen the judicial infrastructure as it can help in improving access to justice, by catering to the rising cases and litigants, and their changing needs, he opined. The NJIC, he further stated, would help in creating national assets across the country by following the principles of social responsibility and inclusive architecture.
CJI Ramana also welcomed the establishment of the Advocates Chambers and Multi-level Parking at the High Court of Allahabad and opined that it would aid in creating a “barrier free-citizen friendly” atmosphere. He also highlighted the need for effective legal education. According to him, the growth in legal education greatly influences the growth in the legal system. It is therefore necessary to have quality legal education which would assist in producing eligible professionals.
CJI Justice N. V. Ramana also congratulated and thanked the prominent leading lights present in the ceremony.
The above discussions of Justice Ramana's speeches on implementing an effective judicial infrastructure system signal the actual need for the same. Our Indian judiciary is in fact in an urgent need of schemes that could help in enhancing its productivity both quantitatively and qualitatively. Strengthening the infrastructure therein is crucial to witness visible progress. Pendency and backlog of cases is the most threatening issue of our country that has almost blocked us from growing further. Adequacy of judicial infrastructure is expected to reduce these pendencies and backlogs. We are in desperate need to specially reform the lower courts that lack a proper functioning mechanism. Though State Governments are responsible for providing judicial infrastructure, the Central Government has come forward to help with financial assistance. This is a welcoming step. Similarly, it is the primary duty of the Chief Justice of India, along with the other luminaries in the legal fraternity, to push the government to come up with the necessary developmental policies to revolutionize the Indian judicial system.