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Insights into Editorial: The court’s burden

Context:

A joint conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts was recently inaugurated.

The joint conference is an occasion for the executive and the judiciary to come together to create frameworks for simple and convenient delivery of justice and to discuss steps required to overcome the challenges facing the justice system.

 

National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation (NJIC):

  1. It is unfortunate that the proposal by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) for a national judicial infrastructure corporation with corresponding bodies at the State level, did not find favor with many Chief Ministers at the recent joint conference of Chief Justices and Chief Ministers.
  2. A special purpose vehicle, vested with statutory powers to plan and implement infrastructure projects for the judiciary, would have been immensely helpful in augmenting facilities for the judiciary, given the inadequacies in court complexes across the country.
  3. However, it is a matter of relief that there was agreement on the idea of State-level bodies for the same purpose, with representation to the Chief Ministers so that they are fully involved in the implementation.

 

What is National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation (NJIC)?

  1. The idea for such an agency was first proposed by CJI Ramana, even before he took office.
  2. Soon after he was sworn in, the CJI commenced work on the NJIC and a survey of 6,000 trial courts in various states was undertaken as part of this exercise.
  3. Only 27 per cent of courtrooms in the subordinate judiciary have computers on judges’ dias while there are still 10 per cent courts that do not have access to proper internet facilities.
  4. These are some of the findings revealed in an all-India survey conducted by the Chief Justice of India’s office, which is part of CJI N.V. Ramana’s proposal to set up a National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation (NJIC) to develop judicial infrastructure in trial courts.
  5. The survey indicated a substantial gap in infrastructure and availability of basic amenities in the lower judiciary such as court halls, residential accommodation, waiting room for litigants in trial courts, especially in smaller towns and rural areas.
  6. According to sources familiar with the developments, CJI has already worked out a model of the NJIC based on the findings of the survey, which is still underway.
  7. CJI had flagged the gulf between the available infrastructure and the justice needs of the people.
  8. If his proposal had been accepted, the available funding as a centrally sponsored scheme, with the Centre and States sharing the burden on a 60:40 ratio, could have been gone to the national authority, which would allocate the funds through high courts based on need.
  9. It is likely that Chief Ministers did not favour the idea as they wanted a greater say in the matter.

 

Creating the required infrastructure in Lower Judiciary:

  1. Given the experience of allocated funds for judicial infrastructure going unspent in many States, it remains to be seen how far the proposed State-level bodies would be successful in identifying needs and speeding up implementation.
  2. It will naturally require greater coordination between States and the respective High Courts.
  3. Union Law Ministry has promised assistance from the Centre to the States for creating the required infrastructure, especially for the lower judiciary.
  4. While it is a welcome sign that the focus is on infrastructure, unmitigated pendency, chronic shortage of judges and the burgeoning docket size remain major challenges.
  5. CJI Ramana flagged some aspects of the Government’s contribution to the burden of the judiciary — the failure or unwillingness to implement court orders, leaving crucial questions to be decided by the courts and the absence of forethought and broad-based consultation before passing legislation.
  6. While this may be unpalatable to the executive, it is quite true that litigation spawned by government action or inaction constitutes a huge part of the courts’ case burden.

 

‘Funding, executing & supervisory agency for development’:

  1. While the NJIC will be the nodal agency for infrastructural developments, it will not be involved in judicial appointments in trial courts. Appointments will continue to be made by the state governments and the respective high courts.
  2. A third source clarified that the NJIC will be a funding, executing and supervisory agency for development works.
  3. According to the CJI’s proposal, both the central and state governments will contribute their share of funds outlined in the centrally-sponsored scheme to the NJIC, which will then release the finances to the high courts according to their requirement.
  4. The structure of the corporation is likely to be modelled on the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), a national body based in Delhi that provides free legal services.
  5. At the national level, the CJI will be the patron of the NJIC, which will include two senior SC judges, the finance secretary from the central government, two to three senior chief justices of state HCs, and a member of the Niti Aayog.
  6. Each state is likely to have a local corporation as well, which will be led by the state HC chief justice along with a senior judge and senior state government bureaucrats.
  7. This composition will also ensure regular interaction between the two stakeholders – judiciary and the executive – over improving court infrastructure.
  8. The NJIC will not suggest any major policy change but will give complete freedom to HCs to come up with projects to strengthen ground-level courts.
  9. It may recommend a model structure of how a court complex, courtroom or a waiting area for litigants should be.
  10. However, it will be up to the high courts to adopt and modify the suggestions according to their requirements.

 

Conclusion:

The conversation between the judiciary and the executive at the level of Chief Justices and Chief Ministers may help bring about an atmosphere of cooperation so that judicial appointments, infrastructure upgradation and downsizing pendency are seen as common concerns.

The modernization of judicial infrastructure did not mean building more courts or filling up vacancies or ploughing through vacancies.

An efficient “judicial infrastructure” means providing equal and free access to justice.

This could be realized through a barrier-free and citizen-friendly environment.