” Tarikh par Tarikh, Tarikh par Tarikh, Tarikh par Tarikh, Tarikh par Tarikh milti rahi hai, lekin insaaf nahi mila My lord, insaaf nahi mila…..mili hai to sirf ye tarikh..“. This famous Bollywood dialogue has become the reality for many Indians ever since the inception of the Supreme Court of India in 1950. The growing pendency of cases and the high cost of litigation has eroded the faith of the common man in the country’s justice delivery system.
The ever increasing number of both litigation as well as judicial vacancies has hampered the working of the judiciary which is being plagued by criticism from all stakeholders.This was manifested in the sudden emotional outburst of the Chief Justice of India Sh. T.S. Thakur while addressing the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers of the States and Chief Justices of the High Courts. Asking the government to improve the judicial infrastructure, he also made a fervent plea to increase the judge to population ratio so that justice is not denied to many, as is the case now.
Thousands of people are languishing in jails as under trials. Many of them, which might also include the innocent ones, have completed more than half of the punishment period without being tried. People from remote areas of the country, especially from South India, find it difficult to approach the Apex Court with it’s seat in New Delhi. Petty issues related to the relatively richer sections and those living closer to New Delhi have choked the court and has kept the more needy ones at bay. Does that mean the Supreme Court is not able to perform it’s constitutionally ordained task of providing equal justice for all?
As per the Constitution of India, The Supreme Court has different types of jurisdictions. It’s original jurisdiction covers the violation of Fundamental Rights where citizens can directly approach the Supreme Court in case of infringement of their rights. But it shares this power with the High Courts of India. The cases of federal nature involving the centre and the states are exclusively adjudicated upon by the SC. Appeals from all civil and criminal cases from all the High Courts lie to the Supreme Court of India. In addition, it’s advisory jurisdiction empowers the President to consult it on any question of law or fact. The advice tendered by the SC is however, not binding on the President.
The constitution makers had envisaged the SC as concentrating more on fundamental questions of constitutional importance. But, from the very beginning, the number of such matters being heard by SC judges have been on a downward trajectory. Instead, around 98% of their time is wasted upon solving petty matters. Even when constitutional matters arise, due to the paucity of judges, they are heard by division benches of two judges instead of constitutional benches consisting of five or more judges. More judges are required in such cases for a wider range of judicial opinions to help avoid erroneous judgments.
This prompted, V.Vasanthakumar, a Chennai based lawyer to propose for the establishment of a National Court of Appeal (NCA) in Delhi with regional benches in Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai. Such courts, according to him, would act as the final courts of appeal in case of civil and regional disputes decided by the High Courts lying in their respective regions. This will relieve the Supreme Court from the excessive backlog of appeals from the lower courts, and will help it concentrate more on issues of general public importance. Having regional benches will also reduce the cost of litigation by reducing the distance and increasing the accessibility to an effective justice delivery mechanism in the form of NCA.
He cited the example of Ireland which had established the NCA in 2013 after prolonged debate. It is slated to be an intermediate tier between the High Courts and the Supreme Court. But this idea has invited contradictory views from all sections, some supporting while the others criticizing the idea. The government has already shown it’s reservations citing feasibility issues. Creating an all new tier of judiciary, according to it, will alter the basic structure of the Constitution. The rigors of parliamentary procedures in getting a majority for the amendment of the Constitution is another hard thing to achieve.
Instead of such debatable ideas, the judiciary and the executive should together join hands to help restore the faith of the people and the sanctity of the Indian judicial system. The lower courts should be strengthened with adequate judicial infrastructure. The Supreme Court should also introspect and exercise restraint in admitting appeals from the lower courts, focusing only the ones pertaining to important questions of law. The judicial vacancies should be filled on an urgent basis and an effective mechanism has to be established, by mutual agreement of both the judiciary and the executive, for the purpose. Only competent judges with proven credentials can give error free judgments. Men with highest integrity and morality should be appointed to the top posts without giving any weightage to nepotism.
More and more fast track courts are required to clear the soaring pendency of cases in a time bound manner. Lok Adalats, a system of alternative dispute resolution should be held more frequently. Many reforms have been taken by the Modi government to usher in development, by increasing the limits of Foreign Direct investment (FDI) and has given huge publicity to it’s “Make In India” project. But such reforms will not become reality until the foreign investors are convinced of the efficacy and speed of Indian courts in solving disputes. Besides, the problems faced by the citizens have already been highlighted and should be given the topmost priority..