WITH the Prime Minister watching, an anguished Chief Justice of India T S Thakur made an impassioned plea on Sunday to the government to help upgrade judicial infrastructure and start addressing the glaring problem of shortage of judges.
These, he said, were vital to the country’s future given the government’s emphasis on flagship initiatives such as “Make in India and Invest in India”.
“We are inviting foreign direct investment into the country. We want people to come and make in India…we want people to come and invest in India. But those whom we are inviting are also concerned about the ability of the judicial system in the country to deal with cases and disputes that arise out of such investments. Efficacy of the judicial system is so vitally connected with the development,” said Justice Thakur.
Justice Thakur was addressing a joint conference of chief ministers and chief justices of high courts, with Prime Minister Modi and Union Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda present on the dais.
His voice faltering at one point, Justice Thakur regretted “inaction” on the government’s part in strengthening the judicial infrastructure and increasing the judge-population ratio to tackle the “avalanche” of cases. He said that “it is not enough to criticise” the judiciary alone for the huge pendency.
In his speech, Prime Minister Modi said he understood the agony of the CJI and that the government was open to setting up a joint panel of representatives from the judiciary and executive to deal with pendency. “Jab jaago tab savera (better late than never),” he said. Incidentally, the Prime Minister was not slated to address the gathering, according to the schedule of the programme circulated by the Law Ministry.
Meanwhile, in his 35-minute-long address, Justice Thakur pointed out that the Law Commission had in 1987 recommended the appointment of at least 40,000 more judges so that the number goes up from 10 judges per 10 lakh people to 50.
“But nothing really appears to be moving… And therefore, it is not only in the name of a litigant or people languishing in jails but also in the name of development of the country, its progress that I beseech you to rise to the occasion and realise that it is not enough to criticise. You cannot shift the entire burden to the judiciary,” said Justice Thakur, his voice choking briefly.
Justice Thakur maintained that judges in India were “head and shoulders above” those in other countries. “The American Supreme Court decides 81 cases in one full year and here we have more than 17,000 cases being added to the pending cases in the Supreme Court in just five months. People still have faith in us because we are doing, perhaps, the best that we can,” he said.
Underlining that “access to justice continues to be an illusion in a country where at least 30 per cent population is below poverty line”, the Chief Justice said that this challenge has only become bigger with each passing day but that a “tug of war” between the Centre and state governments has been an obstruction.
”From 1987 up to now, you have added at least 25 crore people to the population of this country. And how many judges have we added? The Central government says we cannot do anything and it is state governments’ responsibility to initiate proposals for increasing the number of judges and improving infrastructure. But the state governments say the Central government must provide the fund first. While this tug of war goes on, judges’ strength remains where it is,” said Justice Thakur.
There are more than 38 lakh cases pending in the high courts of the country, said the Chief Justice, wondering if it could be found out “like a mathematical question” in schools as to how many judges should be required to decide them.
”There are 470 vacancies in the high courts. Over six weeks after the judgment (in the NJAC case), we cleared all proposals. So as far as we are concerned, there is no pendency. I have also written to the chief ministers. How much time is required to process appointments when there is an avalanche of cases, and lakhs of undertrials are languishing in jails?” asked Justice Thakur.
The Chief Justice appeared to be referring to a stand-off between the judiciary and the government over making fresh appointments after the NJAC verdict by which the Collegium system was revived.
Justice Thakur said the Collegium dropped around half the proposals it had received from high courts to make sure nobody with the slightest blemish got appointed as a judge. “We did not want any criticism about the person we choose to appoint since much has already been said about the manner of appointments by the Collegium,” he said.
Justice Thakur also expressed displeasure at the manner in which commercial courts functioned. “Simply putting old wine in a new bottle will not do. What I understand is that commercial courts are being designated from the existing cadre and infrastructure. But it was not the objective. Simply putting up a board at an existing trial courtroom that it is now a commercial court will not serve the purpose. You cannot go setting up commercial courts without adequate infrastructure and environment,” he said.
The Chief Justice ended his address by saying: “If nothing has worked till now, I hope my emotional appeal