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Judicial Reforms:TAKING JUSTICE TO VILLAGES, by Dhurjati Mukherjee,19 November 2009 Print E-mail

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New Delhi,  19 November 2009

Judicial Reforms


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The Law Ministry has pointed out that judicial reforms are on the anvil, which will reduce the life of litigation from an average 15 years to a year within the next three years and make justice speedy and affordable. The ‘Mission Document’, under preparation is to be the roadmap for reforms with back up plans of strategy such as setting up 5000 new courts across the country that will work in three shifts – morning, day and evening.

The measures to be taken are aimed at tackling over three crore pending cases in the trial courts and high courts which would ensure that these are liquidated by the year 2012.  To reach its target, it is also proposed to reduce the average life of litigation by appointing a large number of ad hoc judges only to tackle the 2.64 crore pending cases in trial courts and 30 lakh cases in the High Courts. Even the Supreme Court had crossed the mark of 50,000 pending cases in August. The Solicitor General, who announced this recently before a Bench of Chief Justice, K. G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathaisvam, said that the Government was agreeable to the usefulness of fast track courts but regretted the fact that some States were yet to provide proper infrastructure to these despite it being a centrally-sponsored scheme.

To start with, there will be Gram Nyayalays, which will be functioning shortly and Parliament has already enacted the Gramin Nyayalayas Act. Accordingly, in the coming three years, the Ministry proposes to set up 5,000 more courts with a clear mandate that from the time of filing a case till its decision, no more than six months should be taken. These additional courts will be backed by a solid case management plan that includes clubbing identical cases. Moreover, a judge cannot keep his/her judgement reserved for a long time.

It is understood that retired judges will be requisitioned both in trial courts and High Courts. A retired district judge, whose services will be requisitioned, will expect a fixed pay of around Rs 50,000 per month though this appears quite high, specially for village courts. Apparently, the Ministry plans to train and equip trial court judges, provide them laptops for faster disposal of cases.

Another significant measure will be that a policy would need to be evolved wherein the question whether the Government should file an appeal in higher courts or not would be addressed. Once the criteria for filing an appeal is evolved, which would be a little conservative towards moving higher courts, the Ministry expects a drastic fall in governmental litigation. It may be pointed that most government departments have the habit of unnecessarily going in for appeal, even up to the Supreme Court when there is no merit in the case and the litigant has already won two rounds in the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and the High Court.

Another notable plan of the law ministry is to set up four regional institutes of excellence to equip lawyers and bring them on par with IT professionals. The Planning Commission has been approached for approval of the plan to set up these institutes, which is expected to match the best law institutes in the world.   

Though these judicial reforms are imperative at this juncture, questions arise about the resources required to make it a reality. In the current year, a meagre sum of Rs 90 lakhs has been earmarked for setting up these courts. According to ministry officials, the cost of setting up a village court alone has been estimated at around Rs 18 lakhs (Rs 1.8 million). This is apart from the expenditure required to keep the courts running. The law ministry has agreed to bear the cost of setting up the courts and pay for basic infrastructure during the first three years.

But the States, though have shown appreciation in setting up village courts, they are not quite willing to bear the expenditure from the fourth year onwards. Moreover, the Government needs around Rs 20 crores to set up 100 such courts but current trends indicate that not more than 25 to 50 may become functional during this financial year.

The proposed village courts should be of great help to the rural masses as they can expect to get justice within a specific time frame as the famous saying “justice delayed is justice denied”. However, the cost of litigation has to be kept at a minimum level and, in this connection, the government would have to intervene. It should also be explored if the villagers can make their own submissions (like in the Central Administrative Tribunals) possibly through a written statement in the local/vernacular language. Moreover, the Legal Aid Services would have to extend help to people from the lower echelons of society with free or nominal charges for legal help.

It is understood that the village courts will decide petty criminal cases where there can be a maximum imprisonment of two years and civil disputes arising out of purchase of village property. Judges will have the powers of judicial magistrates and appeals against their orders can be filed only in district courts. It is pertinent to mention here that some methodology should be evolved whereby all cases cannot be allowed to go beyond the district court so that the litigation dos not become unending.  

The critical need for justice reaching all segments of society cannot be doubted but the modus operandi of implementing the plan as early as possible remains to be seen. Let us not forget that the law has by and large favoured the rich and the powerful and that it is time to reverse the trend.  In this endevour, the reforms envisaged are very welcome as these would help the common man to settle the problems at the grass-root level expeditiously and spare himself the harassment of lengthy litigation.

Moreover, at a time when IT has reached all corners of the world, there can be no justification of cases hanging fire for years together. Litigations need to be solved within two-three months so that the benefits of justice reach the people. Judges would too need to make that extra effort in ensuring prompt decisions to help repose the people’s faith in the country’s judiciary.   

The reforms in the judicial system should truly reflect what Prime Minister recently pointed out at a conference of Chief Justices: “Like Gandhiji’s common man, the focus of the judicial system should be to wipe every tear of every waiting litigant”. Thus, in tackling the huge problem of pending cases, “the entire legal system and each rung of it has to function as a seamless web and an indivisible whole” so that major changes could be affected and the marginalized sections assured of justice.  -- INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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