Describing enforcement of existing laws as the major challenge facing the country, Chief Justice of India T S Thakur on Saturday said that there needs to be some process to audit the performance of the government.
In this context, Justice Thakur referred to the delay on part of the Central government in taking decision on proposals of the Supreme Court’s collegium system regarding appointment of judges to various high courts across the country. He also referred to Jammu and Kashmir government taking ten long years only to constitute a board as provided under the law meant for regulating the employment and service condition of buildings and other construction workers in the state.
After taking over as Chief Justice of India, it was Justice Thakur’s maiden visit to his native state. He arrived in Jammu this afternoon to inaugurate a two-day workshop organized by Jammu and Kashmir State Legal Services Authority on “Workers in unorganized sector – their aspirations, challenges and way forward”.
In his inaugural address during the workshop at General Zorawar Singh Auditorium in Jammu University here, Justice Thakur said that the ‘Buildings and Other Construction Workers Regulation of Employment and Other Services Act’ had come into force in 1996. The state government “took ten years to constitute the Board, which is its basic requirement,” he added.
Prior to 2016, “there was not even a Board to speak of enforcement or implementation of the scheme meant for welfare of people working in the unorganized sector,” he pointed out.
Expressing concern over such a situation, he referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that he is committed to repealing one law every day. “Now by that standard you will have 1700 laws repealed by the time he finishes his tenure,” he pointed out, adding that “I believe that he had already repealed some 300 laws…And another 1400 can be repealed.”
Pointing out that “those are dead letters, those are laws which have become obsolete, those are laws which are totally irrelevant with the change of time…some are old colonial laws which have no relevance today”, the Chief Justice of India said that “you repeal them with one enactment…finish them…no problem. However, the challenge is not of repealing those laws which are obsolete, but the challenge is of enforcement of those laws which are on the statue book,’’ he said.
“I don’t know…people say judiciary sometimes over reach,” he said, adding that “judicial over reach is a common refrain against us. But if this is the kind of apathy that you show towards your legal obligations…this is the kind of indifference you show towards what you are supposed to do under a mandate of the Parliament, then if the judiciary intervenes to tell you that you need to act, I wouldn’t call it overreach.”
“It is actually the protection of the right of the people for whom these laws are made that you act…It is not for any personal glorification that the courts or the judges act…it is for the enforcement of these acts,’’ he said, adding that “I think that time has come when we need to audit by some process the performance of the government.”
In this context, he told the participants at the workshop that they must have read in the newspapers today there are 450 vacancies in the high courts in the country. “450 is a large number…almost 50 per cent of the working strength of the high courts,’’ he said, adding that “high courts are running at 50 per cent of their strength.”
Attributing the delay in filling up these vacancies to the Central government’s effort to overhaul the entire system by bringing a National Judicial Commission which was struck down by the Supreme Court, Justice Thakur said that within three weeks after his receiving a letter from Union Law Minister for resumption of the process of appointment, the collegiums cleared 150 appointments to different high courts. “We did not lose time because we realized that this is a major issue and we should not be seen wanting in doing what we ought to do immediately,’’ he said.
“I can tell you today that there is not a single proposal pending with us. We have cleared all the proposals, but it is a different issue that the percentage of casualty has been very high because we have raised the bar higher,’’ he said.
Pointing out that almost 50 per cent of the proposals coming to the Supreme Court collegiums had been turned down as it did not find them upto the mark. He said “The 50 per cent that have been cleared are languishing with the government for the past two months.”
“Now in a system where judiciary is working at half the strength…people are crying for justice…people are languishing in jails; chief justice of the high court and two senior most judges have considered a person to be suitable, it has gone through the chief minister and the governor, it has reached the law ministry…it has gone through the scrutiny of the IB and all other scrutiny…it has come to the Supreme Court collegiums and chief justice of india and two senior most judeges have seen the proposals, removed the unwanted and the undeserving and sent up only the most deserving of the candidates…why should government be sitting over the proposals is something that I cannot understand,’’ he said.
“I think there needs to be some mechanism and if we were do it on the judicial side, it is of course open to us…we can do it on judicial side also, but I think sometimes more important than the judicial side is the voice of the people,’’ he said.
“I have a feeling that there shall be some this kind of an audit..the social audit of the performance of the government, whether it is government of Jammu and Kashmir who, when it comes to establishing a board it takes ten years to establish, or whether it is Government of India where it takes its own sweet will, its own sweet time to clear proposals that have been submitted to it,’’ Justice Thakur said.
“I think there needs to be awareness…the intelligentsia must respond to it and react to it because unless the society, the intelligentsia responds to it then there is no use expecting us to do something on the administrative side and then take it up on the judicial side to enforce the recommendations,’’ he added.
He also referred to apex court’s evolving schemes for welfare of various sections of society by organizing discussions and seminars, he said, “We discussed issues relating to tribal rights. We had the entire North-East in its outlook and in its historical perspective and also the tribals of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.” “There are major issues where you see today problems of Maoism and all they had a revolt against denial of basic rights to these people have not yet been given, which means that this is a major major issue for not only those areas, but for the whole country. We discussed that and we evolved a scheme,’’ he added.
He also referred to non-utilization of thousands of crores collected as tax by state governments for the welfare of the unorganized sector. “I am sure in Punjab, it is Rs 1500 crore…in Karnatka it is 3000 crore and invested in a fixed deposit,’’ he said, adding that “it is not meant to be there in the fixed deposit.”
In Jammu Kashmir, it is Rs 300 crore…it is not a small amount, he said, adding that unfortunately, this money collected for implementing the scheme for unorganized sector is lying unutilized.