Strengthening District Judiciary Is The Need Of The Hour: CJI NV Ramana
It is really worth appreciating, applauding and adoring to see that while delivering his speech at the First Meeting of the All India District Legal Services Authority organised by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), the Chief Justice of India – NV Ramana made no bones in underscoring on the urgent need to strengthen the subordinate judiciary. There can be no gainsaying the irrefutable fact that district courts being the people’s first point of contact with the judiciary plays a very pivotal role in the dispensation of justice. It also goes without saying that every progressive policy needs a strong foundation and the same goes for judiciary; it is imperative to strengthen its foundation – District Judiciary.
Needless to say, this alone explains why the 18th Law Commission in its 230th report submitted in August 2009 had itself noted that, “In almost every High Court, there is huge pendency of cases and the present strength of the judges can hardly be said to be sufficient to cope with the alarming situation. The institution of cases is much more than the disposal and it adds to arrears of cases. The litigating citizens have a fundamental right of life i.e. a tension-free life through speedy justice-delivery system. Now it has become essential that the present strength of the judges should be increased manifold according to the pendency, present and probable. It is also necessary that the work of the High Courts is decentralized, that is, more Benches are established in all States. If there is manifold increase in the strength of the judges and the staff, all cannot be housed in one campus. Therefore, the establishment of new Benches is necessary. It is also in the interest of the litigants. The Benches should be so established that a litigant is not required to travel long. It is true that the new establishments will require money, but it is necessary as a development measure, particularly, when efforts are being made for all-round development of the country. Therefore, the money should not be a problem. We have to watch and protect the interest of the litigants. We must always keep in mind that the existence of judges and advocates is because of the litigants and they are there to serve their cause only. Sometimes, some advocates object to creation of new Benches and selection of new sites for construction of new buildings. But they raise objections in their personal, limited interest. Creation of new Benches is certainly beneficial for the litigants and the lawyers and a beginning has to be made somewhere. A speedy trial is not only required to give quick justice but it is also an integral part of the fundamental right of life, personal liberty, as envisaged in article 21 of the Constitution. Article 39A of the Constitution provides for equal justice and free legal aid. The said article obligates the State to promote justice on a basis of equal opportunity and, in particular, provide free legal aid by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities!”
It is more than 13 years that the Law Commission made this historic recommendation yet ironically only one State – Karnataka has gained from it and the bigger States like UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Odisha etc have not gained anything as not even a single High Court Bench has been created anywhere! Should not the CJI at present NV Ramana do something on this? This despite the fact that we see maximum lawlessness in states like Bihar where maximum trains were burnt in the recent protests against the Agniveer scheme for defence soldiers. Still it has not even a single High Court Bench even though it has more than 11 crore population also and as against this, Karnataka which has just 6 crore population has three High Court Benches and so also has Assam, Maharashtra and West Bengal! This anomaly must be set right by creating more benches in UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Odisha and other big states! It brooks no more delay now yet we see a deafening silence on it! I hope Centre will at least now act after 75 years of independence and accord due weightage most laudably to the landmark recommendations that were made by 230th report!
The most ticklish question to consider here is: Why other states where pending cases in high courts didn’t exceed even one lakh were given more benches and which already had benches like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Assam among others but UP was not given even a single more Bench after 1948? Why UP has more than 10 lakh pending cases in High Court and more than one crore cases in lower courts which is more than half of the states cases put together and still it has just one High Court Bench and that too so close to Allahabad?
Why Centre has most contemptuously refused to create even a single High Court Bench in any nook and corner of UP including at West UP which has 30 districts? Why so many former PMs like Atal Bihari Vajpayee who even himself forcefully raised the demand for a High Court Bench for West UP right inside Parliament in 1986, Mrs Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Dr Manmohan Singh among others who had all appreciated the dire need for a High Court Bench in West UP yet not even a single has been created anywhere in UP? Why another lawless state Bihar has not even a single High Court Bench? Why so many UP CM like Dr Sampoornanand, ND Tiwari, Rajnath Singh and present Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had demanded a High Court Bench for Gorakhpur in Parliament in 1998 as he was MP from Gorakhpur and even brought a private member Bill in 2015 for the same then also yet why not even a single Bench created till now anywhere in UP?
To top it all: Why most shamelessly has Centre ignored that practising lawyers of West UP repeatedly went on strike for months and months together since last many decades as was seen in the one month hunger strike in 1978? Why even the six months old strike by practising lawyers of 30 districts of West UP as was done in 2001 from July till December and so also four to five months strike as was done in 2014-15, two months as was done in 2010 and one month as was done in 2009 apart from the strike every Saturday without break for more than 41 years since May 1981 till July 2022 apart from the so many strikes that we keep witnessing by practising lawyers when some lawyer is killed by a criminal or some other cause renewing the age old demand for a high court bench in West UP? Why nothing on earth fails to shake Centre in taking any concrete step for creating a high court bench in West UP?
It must be stated at the very outset that it is quite bewildering and baffling to see that the state of UP which Ban ki moon who is the former UN Secretary General had slammed as the rape and crime capital of India has the least high court benches in India just one and that too just about 200 km away from Allahabad at Lucknow created way back on July 1 in 1948 when late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister! Since then not a single Bench has been created in any nook and corner of UP! What is even more reprehensible is that West UP comprising of 30 districts which owe for about more than half of the total pending cases of UP has not even a single bench of high court! Why such a raw, third rated and step motherly treatment for West UP and also other needy parts of UP like Bundelkhand and Purvanchal?
To put it differently: Why the High Court and Benches of 8 states and above all even Lahore high court in Pakistan is closer to West UP as compared to Allahabad high court? Why no attempt has been made to create more benches for UP particularly for West UP which owes for maximum riots, maximum rapes, maximum killings etc and still there is no bench here? Worst of all, why most stupidly, most shamelessly and most senselessly even the most invaluable recommendation made by none other than Justice Jaswant Singh who was a former Judge of the Supreme Court and former Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court and who was appointed by former PM late Mrs Indira Gandhi as head of Jaswant Singh Commission to look into where all benches were urgently required and who recommended 3 benches for UP with main bench at Agra where high court itself of UP was located from 1866 to 1869 and 2 circuit benches at Dehradun and Nainital even though on its recommendations benches were created at Aurangabad in Maharashtra which has been functioning since 1985 and which already had two Benches at Nagpur and Panaji and which tops in Justice Index ranking among all States as also at Madurai in Tamil Nadu and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal?
Ironically enough, why even Supreme Court till date has not take notice of this glaring disparity and open cheating that was perpetrated on more than 10 crore people of West UP and set up an independent SIT (Special Investigation Team) to look into it as to why Centre backstabbed UP so brutally even though maximum PM have been from UP itself including late Mrs Indira Gandhi herself who had as PM set up the Justice Jaswant Singh Commission headed by former Apex Court Judge – Justice Jaswant Singh in mid seventies to look into where all Benches are needed and when it recommended 3 High Court Benches in undivided UP not even one was created even though on its recommendations Benches were created in other States as mentioned above!
Why was it that most preposterously the nearly one crore people of hilly areas of UP that was created into a separate state termed Uttarakhand in 2000 were still compelled most foolishly to travel like slaves more than thousands of kilometers all the way to Allahabad as Centre refused to set up a Bench either at Dehradun where the capital of Uttarakhand is now located or at Nainital where the High Court is now located? Why Supreme Court too kept watching everything like a mute spectator? Why Supreme Court did not take suo motu notice of the terrible sufferings faced by the people of now Uttarakhand for more than 50 long years till 2000 when it formed part of undivided UP and then given a High Court itself in 2000? Apex Court has a lot to answer on this when it watched everything like a hapless, hopeless and helpless spectator just like it is watching now in case of West UP where lawyers strike every Saturday since May 1981 till now!
Anyway, returning to what CJI NV Ramana was saying on district judiciary about whom he reckoned that being the first point of contact, subordinate judiciary shoulders great responsibility. He said that, “Public opinion about the judiciary is primarily based on their experiences with the district judiciary. This casts a great responsibility on your shoulders. You must undertake multifaceted tasks and roles. You are best placed to understand people’s problems and social issues.”
Need to flag the issues which hinder the functioning of the judiciary
While he attempts to project the achievements of the Indian judiciary in order to win people’s faith, CJI Ramana admitted that in order to serve better, the need to flag the issues impeding its functioning is compelling. He minced just no words to underscore that, “There is no meaning in camouflaging or hiding the problems. If we don’t discuss these issues, if matters of pressing concern are not addressed, then the system will cripple. I fear we may be unable to fulfill our constitutional mandate of social justice. I urge you therefore, to DISCUSS, DEBATE AND DECIDE! This is the principle I have been following all through.” He identified some of the pressing issues as – conditions of service, remunerations and infrastructural challenges. He pointed out that the Supreme Court has recently addressed the issue of remuneration by directing for implementation of revised pay benefits. I really fervently hope that CJI NV Ramana will spare some thoughts on creating more High Court Benches also in big states like UP, Rajasthan, Bihar which will direct benefit the district judiciary!
Why the extremely commendable recommendation made by many UP CM like Sampoornanand who in 1955 had recommended that a High Court Bench be created in Meerut was most contemptuously discarded by Centre? Why when Mayawati as UP CM had recommended that West UP be created as a separate state in 1995 did Centre not just rejected it but also vowed never to create any bench in this region? Whose agenda is Centre working on? It is criminals who are gaining the most due to no Bench being created here!
Why even eminent Supreme Court lawyers like former thrice President of Supreme Court Bar Association and former Union Law Minister – Kapil Sibal strongly recommended for High Court Bench at Meerut in UPA’s tenure as was disclosed by another Union Minister then – RPN Singh yet no Bench was created anywhere in UP even though Centre proudly created 2 more Benches at Karnataka at Dharwad and Gulbarga for just 4 and 8 districts which is such a peaceful state? Why not a single High Court Bench created anywhere in UP other than at Lucknow in last 75 years? Should I salute Centre for this?
To say the least, why has Centre most brazenly disregarded the most commendable recommendation made by one of the most eminent jurist of India and two times Attorney General – late Soli J Sorabjee who as Attorney General in 2001 had categorically and convincingly recommended that Centre is fully empowered to create a High Court Bench in West UP without any recommendation from the Chief Justice or Chief Minister or anyone else in this regard? Why Centre even most shamelessly disregarded what former Chairman of Supreme Court Bar Association – BN Krishnamani had said that, “Only by the creation of a High Court Bench in any of the districts in West UP will the people living there get real justice? Why the landmark recommendations of 230th report of Law Commission of India in 2009 to create more High Court Benches implemented shamelessly, senselessly and stupidly only in Karnataka?
There can be no gainsaying that if UP can’t be given more high court benches and West UP can’t have even one Bench then all the Benches in India must be disbanded right now itself because UP has maximum pending cases and if it can function without any Benches in needy regions like West UP who are suffering to the hilt where people of more than 30 districts have to travel more than 700 km on an average all the way to Allahabad then why Maharashtra which tops the state list in justice index has 3 High Court Benches and we see even 4th Bench at Kolhapur had been sanctioned by the CM earlier for just 6 districts but not a single more for UP?
Use modern technological tools to enhance pace of justice delivery
CJI Ramana also took the opportunity to encourage all present to make use of the technological tools to augment the pace of justice dispensation. It was noted that the cooperation of the district officers was crucial in this regard.
Condition of undertrials need active consideration and intervention
While acknowledging the work done by NALSA in collaborating with stakeholders to secure relief for undertrials, he emphasized on much needed intervention to uplift the condition of the undertrials. He apprised all present that the PM and Attorney General have flagged this pressing issue on a previous occasion.
Effective representation for better access to justice
CJI NV Ramana indicated that dedicated advocates are needed for effective representation of the prisoners. It is of paramount importance that the advocates know the condition and needs of their clients and therefore make visits to jail to be aware of their clients realities. CJI said that, “We need sincere and dedicated jail visiting advocates. Jail visiting advocates can later become the legal aid authorized defence counsels. Such advocates must also be accessible to families of the prisoners, who are often unaware about their status.”
Strengthen ADR and Lok Adalats to reduce pendency and backlog
CJI Ramana also highlighted the need to strengthen ADR and Lok Adalats as they have the ability to provide millions of people a platform to settle their grievances, transforming the legal landscape of India. A wide range of matters like matrimonial disputes, intergovernmental disputes, government contracts and land acquisition can be attempted to be resolved through mandatory ADR. He believes that by providing speedy justice ADR is capable of tackling the issues of pendency and backlog.
Participation of young law students can overhaul legal services landscape
He highlighted that our country’s strength is its youth. With an average age of 29 years India has one of the youngest populations in the world. If properly trained they have huge potential to drive social and economic progress. Even in the mission towards a better legal services landscape the role of young students is pivotal. Engagement with the legal services authorities would provide necessary exposure to the students to the grassroot realities of their country and its judicial system.
Legal Services Authorities and Access to justice
The Preamble of the Constitution of India envisages justice to be social, economic and political. However, CJI Ramana conceded that in reality only a miniscule population can access the justice delivery system. Emphasizing that access to justice is a tool for social emancipation, he stated that, “Majority of the people suffer in silence, lacking awareness and necessary means. India was built around the goal of removing the disparities in society. Project democracy is for providing a space for participation of all. Participation will not be possible without social emancipation.” What better can this be done other than to create more High Court Benches in big states like UP, Rajasthan among others? The gap between theory and reality, he reckoned, is being filled by the Legal Services Authorities across the country. He noted that the NALSA with the aim to provide free legal aid to 70% of the population is the greatest legal aid provider in the world. He was happy that many objectives of NALSA have already been translated to social realities. He appreciated the effort of dedicated judges, advocates and governments for transforming NALSA’s aim into reality. But it also cannot be denied that a lot remains to be done on creating more High Court Benches in India in needy states!
It also merits no reiteration that just spending crores and crores of rupees on just national highways or on creating more airports as we saw recently in Kushinagar and Jewar in UP which PM Narendra Modi inaugurated most pompously serves no purpose if the “poorest of poor” and farmer class still are compelled to travel more than 750 km away on an average all the way to Allahabad like a classic joker. Just creating a sports university in Meerut serves no purpose if Meerut or any of the 30 districts of West UP are considered unfit for a High Court Bench in West UP! Why Centre tends to overlook that its own former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and so also BJP MP from Meerut Rajendra Agrawal and so also another BJP MP and former Union Minister Satyapal Singh too and former UP CM and present Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had supported the demand for a Bench in West UP with Satyapal Singh even demanding five High Court Benches for UP at Meerut, Agra, Jhansi, Gorakhpur and Varanasi right inside Parliament but on this Centre like previous governments have been most miser which is beyond comprehension?
As per the Section 51 of the States Re-Organisation Act of 1956, the Centre can create a High Court Bench in any of these 3 states – UP, Bihar and J&K directly by bringing it up in Parliament. Centre does not need any recommendation from State Government or the Chief Justice yet we see no action taken in any of these 3 states till now! It is known all over that criminals are encouraged to see that it take ages for cases to be decided in UP no matter how many tall claims are made by the CM as UP has least Benches in India and West UP and so also Bihar which are notorious for lawlessness have no Benches and no political party has ever shown a real interest in addressing this key issue with sincerity. UP former Chief Justice Dilip Babasaheb Bhosale while in office as Chief Justice in a case involving rape and loot of few women along with men on national highway in Bulandshahr in West UP rightly said that there is total lawlessness in UP as compared to Maharashtra where women can travel alone in night anywhere and this even I had myself seen at Pune from where I did my LLB from Symbiosis Law College yet Maharashtra has three High Court Benches at Nagpur, Aurangabad and Panaji with steps being initiated for 4th one at Kolhapur for just 6 districts but for UP Centre is just not prepared to set up even a single Bench anywhere in UP! This is the real rub!
If district judiciary is to be strengthened in the real sense then the 230th report of Law Commission of India must be definitely implemented in all states especially big states like UP where Bench is needed most in West UP, Bundelkhand, Purvanchal and so also in Rajasthan at Udaipur and in Odisha in Western region and so also in other needy regions in different states! If this is not done and CJI NV Ramana just like his predecessors chooses to look the other way around then district judiciary can definitely never be truly strengthened in the real sense!