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It cannot be forgotten that the Indian justice delivery system is litigant centric. As long as a lone outstation litigant continues to be unable to seek justice by approaching the Supreme Court due to limiting factors such as excessive distance, outrageous costs, lack of low-priced accommodation the motto of access to justice remains only on paper. Successive governments have been rejected demands for setting up a National Court of Appeal (NCA) with regional benches of Supreme Court in major cities ignoring aspiration of lakhs of people in distant western, eastern and southern states.

The Supreme Court of India came into existence on 26th January, 1950. After its inauguration on January 28, 1950, the Supreme Court commenced its sittings in a part of the Parliament House. The Court moved into the present building in 1958. As the work of the Court increased and debts of cases began to cumulate, Parliament increased the number of Judges from 8 in 1950 to 11 in 1956, 14 in 1960, 18 in 1978 and 26 in 1986.

Article 130 of the constitution states: “The Supreme Court shall sit in Delhi or in such other place or places, as the Chief Justice of India may, with the approval of the President, from time to time, appoint.”[1]

Many litigants are compelled to depend on a third party rather than looking into the matters themselves as ‘party in person’ as they find the Supreme Court unapproachable. Having the seat of Supreme Court only at Delhi makes seeking of justice a utopian dream for them for reason of inaccessibility.

Distance of the Supreme Court from other parts of the country is united with huge travel expenses. Decentralization of Court in to north block, south block, west block and east block is necessary.  In this age of Internet it is easy for all courts to communicate between them how ever far away they are located from one another. No one city is more vital than the other as far as administration management is concerned.

Back in 1988 in the 125th report of the Law Commission, its then Chairman Justice (retd) D. A. Desai noted that, the Government of India on couple of occasions sought the opinion of the Supreme Court to set up a Bench in the South, but the proposal did not find favour with it. Those coming from distance places like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam, Manipur and Meghalaya etc have to spend huge amounts on travel to reach the Supreme Court situated at Delhi. There is a practice of bringing one’s own lawyer who has handled the matter in the High Court that adds to the expenditure.

Avery heavy workload on the Supreme Court judges, leaving very little time to concentrate, results in an natural tendency to delay delivering judgments.

Again in its 229th report in August 2009, Law Commission laid stress on division of the Supreme Court into only a Constitution Bench in Delhi to deal with constitutional and other similar issues and Cassation Benches in four regions at Delhi, Chennai or Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai. The report was submitted by its then chairman Dr. Justice (retd) A R Lakshmanan, pointing out that the Commission took up the matter suo motu and wanted the Benches for the northern, southern, eastern and western regions.

As per a recent survey, among the total cases filed in the Supreme Court, the highest number are from high courts in the northern states i.e. 14 per cent from Delhi, 9.8 per cent from Punjab and Haryana, seven per cent from Uttarakhand, 4.3 per cent from Himachal Pradesh, etc. The lowest statistics correspond to the High Courts in southern states 2.5 per cent from Kerala, 2.8 per cent from Andhra Pradesh and 1.1 per cent from the Madras High Court because doorway to Supreme Court to these people is not so easy.

The concept of a Constitution Bench and Cassation Bench is not new as it has come in many countries along with the democratic evolution like United States, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Egypt,   Denmark and many other countries. 

Government view:  In view of government authorities, it would be wrong to assume that formation of benches across the country would decrease the amount of litigation. Rather, it would not serve the purpose. A full court (a meeting of all 31 judges) of the Supreme Court had discarded the demand saying it would affect the country's unitary nature; and in this regard government view is also the same.  Even the apex court itself has already rejected similar proposals four times- in 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2010. 

Access to justice is a ‘Fundamental human right’ and is very important for the preservation of rule of law; and it is not possible for the common public to get justice without the courts being accessible to them.


[1] The constitution of India part V/chapter IV - The Union Judiciary

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Category Constitutional Law, Other Articles by - Vikram Irale