Indian Judiciary: In need of big ticket Reforms

Dr VK Bahuguna

(The author is retired civil servant)

When it comes to assess the governance mostly the performance of executive and its monolith bureaucracy is scrutinized by the media and experts. But the sound, efficiently effective and independent judiciary is equally important for bringing a sense of happiness for people and for protecting their constitutional rights. The hallmark of an efficient judicial system is how fast it delivers the justice. Today more than 3.5 crore cases are pending in the courts in India and increasing every year almost at the rate of 9.7%. In the Supreme Court alone pending cases as on July 2019 were 58,669 while in hearing there were 20914. For admission alone 37,775 cases were listed. The Chief Justice of India (CJI) a few months ago took up the matter with Prime Minister for increasing the retirement age of Judges to deal with this problem. The issue of increasing retirement age of judges may have a merit whatsoever, but judiciary must ponder if it is the only issue for the Indian judiciary to be tackled to deal with the pendency. The real issue, however, is absence of quick, affordable and accessible justice for a vast section of our people. The causes of pendency are also the way our judicial system functions. The Prime Minister and his law Minister must seize this opportunity to discuss with a broad mind to reform and restructure of our faltering judicial mechanism so that a futuristic natural justice regime is created which is quick, fair and affordable not only at the district level but right up to Supreme Court.

On manynational issues of public interest, the judiciary have credible achievements, as the judiciary on several occasions came to the rescue of common citizens in the past right from enforcing the fundamental rights to ensuring conservation of our environment, protecting the basic features of our constitution, independence of institutions and also firmly correcting aberrations in discharging dutiesas per the lawby the executives and primarily the bureaucracy.The recent Supreme Court intervention in helping the home buyers against the fraud and thuggery committed by the Amrapali group in Noida is an example to show how the culprits can be booked when the entire system had failed and colluded. 

However, the moot question in today's scenario is why the judiciary is perceived to have failed on the issue of providing quick access tojustice to a commoner in remote countryside, urban ghettosand middle class. The cost ofgetting justice is very highnot only for the poor but also for the well to do upper middle class families. The justiceis painfully cumbersome and time consuming and the powerful people get away with their misdeeds in many cases. The judiciary therefore, is in need for sweeping changes in order to modernize it to be able to provide timelyaffordable justiceby adjusting its style functioning to mirror the need of present society.

This writer recently in order to see the kerfuffle in the courtsvisited a district court in Delhi and observed the hustle and bustle with people in black robes and litigants frantically queuing up before the lifts, corridors and the chambers of the Judges full of people.

The first impression one gets is that getting justice is a tedious processand quite painful especially in civil suits and consequent delaysdue to court proceedings. The law and its interpretation is so cumbersome that in frustration many people leave their fight midway and the financially more powerful who afford costly advocates get away. This is particularly true in case of property disputes among the close family members. Here the law instead of finding contours of natural justice gets trapped in the nifty- gritty of interpretations of law.

During early eighties judicial reforms brought many tribunals into existence so that domain expertise is used in handling cases on specific subjects along with judicial scrutiny and in order to give quick delivery of justice and to reduce the work of High Courts. Many tribunals however, have become biggest impediments for justice in many cases. Take for illustration, the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum (NCDRF) and the Central Administrative Tribunals (CATs). These bodies constituted under two different Acts of Parliament, have become another sinecure for retired Judges and a few Bureaucrats close to the seat of powers and are antithesis of the purpose they were set up holding up cases for many years. Being in a post retirement job they are not accountable to any superior court for timely and correct delivery of justice. 

There is a case being heard in the bench of a retired bureaucrat in the NCDRF for the past four years against the Amrapali builder in Noida. The Member is giving dates after dates in a gap of 10-12 months and it seems he is helping the builder more than the litigants. Interestingly, the same case is being heard by the Supreme Court and the Consumer Forum should have closed the case as its decision had been overridden by the Apex Court in any case. The situation is no different CATsand less said the better. In the Guwahati CAT, one officers' simple case is not yet decided since past seven years as the Members are either on leave or keep postponing or hobnobbing on flimsy ground and the officer is suffering and no supervision compound the agony. The law Ministry should appoint a Committee to examine if the purpose of creation of these bodies were achieved. There may be umpteen numbers of cases which can be cited to invoke the conscience of our Supreme Court and government to see if the country can review its legal framework and at least to simplify it in many cases and make changes in several other fields so that it looks really futuristic jurisprudence.

The Judiciary must therefore, evolve a protocol so that judges decide the cases within a time limit and develop a mechanism to quickly deal with intricacies of cases. Another issue is of charging reasonable fees by the advocates and providing judicial assistance. It should also be examined if the profession of Judges could be separated from lawyers. It will bring more professionalism and effectiveness. For the Tribunals other such bodies only serving judges should be appointed. However, Supreme Court should constitute a panel of experts of domain knowledge for engaging to assist the Judges on subject matters if need arise. 

If this piece can attract the attention of Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Prime Minister and law Minister of the country, it will spur some thinking on the issues raised here. 

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