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Bolster court infrastructure

  India has a sanctioned strength of more than 24,000 judges in the district judiciary but only 20,000-odd courtrooms, including 620 rented halls. A report compiled by the Supreme Court (SC) registry on what ails the 3,028 court complexes in the country threw up disconcerting statistics: 26% did not have separate washrooms for women, 46% didn’t have purified drinking water; 95% didn’t have basic medical facilities; 67% were not disabled-friendly; 49% didn’t have libraries, and 73% didn’t have computers on judges’ dais with video conferencing facility. The figures are undeniably startling for a country with 40 million cases choking the system at the district level. The first encounter of a common man with the judiciary poses multiple barriers in terms of court procedure, and the decrepit infrastructure only compounds the hardship. To strengthen the justice delivery mechanism, the SC, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, recently proposed a National Judicial Infrastructure Authority (NJIA). NJIA was envisaged as an umbrella body to move from ad-hoc committees to a more streamlined, accountable and organised structure. The proposal considered an enactment on the lines of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) so that the funds allocated by the Centre and states for infrastructure could be utilised through special purpose vehicles. CJI Ramana also wrote a letter to Union law minister Kiren Rijiju in January, clarifying that the proposed structure would not only have judges but also representatives from the department of justice, finance ministry, national informatics council and central public works department. But the government’s indisposition and unwillingness to the proposal were finally conveyed to the CJI during the joint conference of chief ministers and high court chief justices last week when Mr Rijiju turned down the proposal. According to people aware of the matter, the Centre did not specify reasons for its resistance but remained firm that the existing system should continue, letting the executive take care of judicial infrastructure.This development is unfortunate, considering the dismal state of affairs and the glaring fact that the existing apparatus has evidently proved to be grossly deficient in fulfilling the need of the justice delivery mechanism and the aspirations of the people who visit the courts. The Centre’s rejection came hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised all support to the judiciary. According to a 2018 study , failure to deliver timely justice costs the country 9% of the annual GDP. Given the dismal state of affairs, the government would do well in shedding its apprehensions, and commence a dialogue afresh on NJIA to arrive at a mutually agreeable mechanism that can give India a state of-the-art judicial infrastructure -- a much-awaited and desired reform.
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