By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2022-05-02 03:52:01
After six years, the conference of Central and state leadership and top judges was held in New Delhi on Saturday, April 30, 2022. Speaking on the occasion, CJI N V Ramana said that non-performance by the executive, poorly drafted laws by the legislature and alarmingly low number of judges which stand at just 20 per million people, were the main reasons behind the huge backlog of cases. While these are valid reasons for much of litigation, they are not the only reasons for pendency.
Justice Ramana said that "if tehsildars acted on farmers' grievances, if the panchayats and civic bodies discharged their duties, if the revenue authorities acquired land following due process, if service laws were applied fairly and if police investigations were fair and no illegal arrests made, majority of the cases would not come before the courts". He added that "of the legislature passes a law, with clarity of thought, foresight and with people's welfare in mind, the scope of litigation is minimized".
While these are valid points and the executive and the bureaucracy must act with efficiency, diligence and fairness by adhering to the letter and the spirit of the law at all times to prevent litigation, is it also not a fact that whenever executive action is taken, the party against whom or in whose favour such action is taken finds some fault with the action and approaches the courts for redress? For instance, even when someone is awarded compensation, they think it is too low and file a case to get an enhanced amount. Is it also not a fact that however well a law is drafted, there are litigants and lawyers who will challenge its provisions in a court of law? No law can be foolproof and every law is interpreted by litigants and lawyers as per their reading and they approach the courts to get the correct judicial reading.
Hence, if cases will come to court even if the executive acts fairly and even if laws are enacted after due debate and discussion, what is needed is to find out ways to how to deliver speedy justice and avoid pendency. Thus, the third point made by CJI N V Ramana is most important. If India has just 20 judges per million people, it cannot hope not to have pendency of cases, especially when both the government and the people have a tendency to rush to the courts even for small matters. The Centre and the states agreed at the conference to increase judicial infrastructure and establish a national judicial infrastructure development authority with state units in which the chief justices and chief ministers of respective states would be members. This is a good development and should be fast-tracked.
The need is to set up more courts, increase the number of judges, fill vacancies in a planned manner and dispose of cases fast by not allowing too many adjournments. In an editorial, The Times of India has suggested that the retirement age of judges in the Supreme Court and the High Courts should be raised to 70. This is a good suggestion and the government can look into it as it would increase productivity. The matter of appointment and transfer of judges should also be revisited (after the scuttling of the NJAC) and the executive and the judiciary must agree upon a formula which results in a smooth process of such appointments and transfers. The main thing is that the process should be so strong that there should be no vacancies in high courts and the Supreme Court at any time.