‘Deliberate inactions by the governments, despite judicial pronouncements, are not good for the health of democracy’
While addressing the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers of States and Chief Justices of High Courts on the challenges facing the Judiciary on April 30th, 2022, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana stated that the Judiciary, Executive, and Legislature must work together to tackle India’s judicial pendency problem. The Prime Minister and Law Minister were in attendance at the conference, as were the Chief Ministers of various states, Chief Justices of all High Courts, and many Supreme Court Judges. This year’s conference marked the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ events – the Union’s flagship initiative commemorating 75 years of Indian Independence.
The CJI said that “ambiguities in legislations” add to existing legal issues, and if the legislature passes a law, with “clarity of thought, foresight and people’s welfare in mind”, the scope for litigation gets minimized, while revealing that India has “only 20 judges per 10 lakh population, which is alarming low”.
Speaking at the inauguration of the 11th joint conference of the Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of the High Court, CJI Ramana said that “the legislature is expected to solicit the views of the public and debate the bills, clause by clause, threadbare, before enacting a law.”
“The judiciary is also confronted with the issue of the executive willingly transferring the burden of decision making to it. Although policymaking is not our domain, if a citizen comes to the court with a prayer to address his grievance, the courts cannot say no. At times, ambiguities in legislation also add to existing legal issues. If the legislature passes a law, with clarity of thought, foresight and with people’s welfare in mind, the scope for litigation gets minimized,” the CJI said.
CJI further said, “When I expressed concern about the passing of laws without much legislative scrutiny on the 15th of August last year, I was misunderstood by some quarters. I have the highest regard for the legislature and the elected representatives. I value the role played by each of them in our democracy, right from a ward member to a Member of Parliament. I was merely pointing toward certain deficiencies.”
“Interestingly, my sentiments on law-making in India were shared by none other than the Speaker of Lok Sabha, Om Birla, who reportedly said a few weeks ago and I quote, “Laws should be made after thorough debates and discussions, incorporating the needs of the aspirational sections of the society,” he stated.
Based on these examples, one can safely summarise that, often, litigation is triggered because of two major reasons – one is, non-performance by the various wings of the executive and the second is, the legislature not realising its full potential, CJI added.
Another important factor in promoting access to justice is filling up judicial vacancies and increasing the sanctioned strength of judges, said the CJI.
“As of today, out of 1,104 sanctioned posts of High Court Judges, there are 388 vacancies. From day one, it has been my endeavour to fill judicial vacancies. We have made 180 recommendations, for appointments in various High Courts during the last year. Out of this, 126 appointments have been made. I thank the Government of India for clearing the names. However, 50 proposals are still awaiting approval by the Government of India,” CJI told the gathering.
“The data reveals the earnest efforts being made by the judiciary to fill the vacancies. I would like to urge the Chief Ministers to extend wholehearted co-operation to the Chief Justices, in their endeavour to strengthen the district judiciary. When we last met in 2016, the sanctioned strength of judicial officers in the country was 20,811. Now, it is 24,112, which is an increase of 16 per cent in 6 years,” the CJI further said.
On the other hand, in the corresponding period, pendency in district courts has gone up from 2 crores 65 lakhs to 4 crores 11 lakhs, which is an increase of 54.64 per cent, the CJI revealed.
He urged the government to be “generous” in creating more posts and filling the same so that the judge-to-population ratio is comparable to advanced democracies.
“This data shows how inadequate the increase in the sanctioned strength is. Unless the foundation is strong, the structure cannot be sustained. Please be generous in creating more posts and filling the same, so that our judge-to-population ratio is comparable to advanced democracies. As per sanctioned strength, we have just around 20 judges per 10 lakh population, which is alarming low,” said the CJI.
“Please remember, it is only the judicial process that is adversarial. Not the judges or their judgments. We are merely discharging our constitutionally assigned role. Judgments are meant for delivering justice and should be seen as such. Let us work together for fulfilling the Constitutional mandate,” the CJI said.
He also said that it is the harmonious and coordinated functioning among the three organs of the State that has preserved and strengthened the democratic foundations of this great nation over the last seven decades.
CJI Ramana said while discharging duties, we all must be mindful of the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ and the judiciary would never come in the way of governance if it is in accordance with the law.
He further began identifying a few contributing factors for docket explosion in the Indian scenario, adding that if a Tehsildar acts upon a grievance of a farmer regarding the land survey, or a ration card, the farmer would not think of approaching the court and if a municipal authority or a gram panchayat discharges its duties properly, the citizens need not look to courts.
CJI also said that if revenue authorities acquire land through due process of law, the courts would not be burdened by land disputes. Apparently, these cases account for 66 per cent of the pendency, he added.
“It is beyond my understanding as to why Intra and interdepartmental disputes of the government or fights between PSUs and the government end up in courts. If service laws are applied fairly in matters of seniority, pension and so on, no employee will be compelled to go to court. It is a well-acknowledged fact that the governments are the biggest litigants accounting for nearly 50 per cent of the cases,” CJI further said.
Justice Ramana said that abiding by the law and the constitution is the key to good governance, however, this is often ignored, and opinions of legal departments are not sought in the rush to implement executive decisions.
The decisions of courts are not implemented by governments for years together, said the CJI, adding that the resultant contempt petitions are a new category of a burden on the Courts, which is a direct result of the defiance by the governments.
“Deliberate inactions by the governments, despite judicial pronouncements, are not good for the health of democracy,” said the CJI.
He stressed that these are avoidable burdens on the judicial system.
“On various occasions, I have elaborated on the complexities involved in this issue. I am aware that, there are certain concerns with the judicial system also, with regard to timely delivery of justice and pendency. Pendency is often blamed on the judiciary. Due to the paucity of time, I cannot explain the same in detail. But a keen look at the websites of the courts will give you an idea about the huge workload on judges. The number of cases filed and disposed on each day is unimaginable,” said CJI.
The rising number of frivolous litigations is an area of concern, he added.
CJI said, “For example, the well-meaning concept of public interest litigation is at times turning into personal interest litigation. No doubt, PIL has served a lot of public interest. However, it is sometimes being misused to stall projects or pressurize public authorities. These days, PIL has become a tool for those who want to settle political scores or corporate rivalry. Realizing the potential for misuse, Courts are now highly cautious in entertaining the same.”
“This conference is an occasion for us to introspect and contemplate solutions. I have been a strong proponent of the “Indianization of the Justice Delivery System”, he added.