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Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Monday spoke on the theme titled ‘Roadmap to truly affordable and timely Justice’, at the Constitution Day celebrations organised at the Vigyan Bhawan, Delhi. He made the following observations:
“Why is it that we have so many cases? The answer is very simple; we have a large population. We have a resource constraint…
…By temperament, we are litigious. Even when we put up false claims and we swear on those false claims, the system is so overloaded that it does not have time to take action against those who commit such acts of perjury…
…Our procedures have become unusually slow. We have provided for a bit too many appeals. Nowhere in the world do you have so many appeals against a single decision….And there is an inbuilt desire of every judicial authority to continue to enlarge its own jurisdiction and therefore examine every question…“
On the allotted theme, Jaitley noted that while the importance of the issue has not been underestimated in the past, corrective measures have not served to resolve it.
“…I can only say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. And the issues [concerning case pendency years ago] were almost identically similar. The only difference is, that for all the steps which have been taken in the last decade and a half….one number has changed…
…The important content of the speeches used to be that there are two crore cases pending in India. Now, that figure has become three crore.“
He proceeded to observe that real solutions are warranted to tackle the problem of affordable and timely justice, rather than abstract ideas. One such measure he proposed was to increase the number of subordinate courts. He justified this proposal by referring to an experiment during the tenure of the Eleventh Pay Commission.
“The only experiment I remember from the earlier period that succeeded was [during] the Eleventh Pay Commission, which became effective from the year 2000. [It] made a very important recommendation…it earmarked a part [of the resources], put it at the disposal of the Central Government and said this is to be given to the State… [to] use this fund in a manner to clear the arrears.
So we conceived a scheme…cases pending for more than two years on the criminal side in any district of the country, will be heard by fast track courts. And suddenly we found that we had criminal trials before the sessions courts…we got five fast-track courts in every district. They were being disposed of in two months and three months time because they were doing day to day trials.”
To implement this measure, he suggested that concerned states bear the costs of increasing subordinate courts in their districts.
“Financially, the State governments are better off because, after the Goods and Services Tax, they get an assured increase of 14% revenue every year under the Constitutional amendment… But there is still a reluctance because more courts are not a very populist measure, and therefore, in the budgeting of the State government, it comes lower down.“
Jaitley suggested that the Fifteenth Finance Commission should be approached to earmark funds to the Central government to be allocated to the States so that by the end of its tenure, there is at least a 20 percent increase in subordinate courts. Such an increase is likely to bring down case pendency, he opined.
Another problem highlighted by Jaitley pertained to complying with court procedure. He spoke of how statutory court procedure is not strictly enforced, which inevitably contributes to cases being prolonged beyond the time envisioned under the law. He cited the example of statutory time limitations to explain the concern.
“Whenever it has come to time limits mentioned in statutes, judicial pronouncements have had two distinct standards. If the executive is to perform, the time limits are held to be mandatory. But since those time limits have to be adhered to by the courts, they have been held to be directory.”
In this backdrop, Jaitley endorsed the view that court procedure must be followed across the board.
Yet another area requiring redressal, Jaitley pointed out, was equipping Tribunals with members who had relevant expertise to deal with the specialised subject matters before them. While he remarked that Tribunals have been quite effective for the most part, he also noted that,
“… while making the selection of the judicial members and the non-judicial members in each of the Tribunals, the selecting authority.. really has to understand the…nexus between the calibre and experience of the selectee and the work involved in that Tribunal.”
He spoke of frequent complaints being made on this aspect, in scores of cases where public financial institutions were involved, particularly in the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), merely because “so and so has retired and has to be given a job.” Such an appointment does not consider accounting for relevant criteria, he pointed out.
Instead, he argued that the selecting authorities must appoint the Tribunal members after examining whether the prospective appointee has the capacity and experience for the task ahead of him.
Concluding his speech, Jaitley also noted that the implementation of the mandate of affordable justice through state legal services at the subordinate levels is improving given India’s growth.
“Today, this country is moving faster than the rest of the world and therefore, our affordability is improving, as far as the exchequer is concerned. So even if these schemes are to be strengthened at the subordinate level, where the poor man actually has to go for justice, I think that the system can today afford it.”
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