The price of justice


  • In democracies, elected governments often view a strong and independent judiciary with suspicion. 

Budget Allocation:

  • For 2017-18, the Union budget allocated a meagre Rs 1,744 crore to the judiciary — about 0.4 per cent of the total budget. To put this in perspective, each of the 12 companies with the highest non-performing assets (NPA) have debts at least eight to 10 times more than the judiciary’s budget.

The loopholes:

  • It is primarily on account of a parsimonious government that many cases are pending in courts. Poor manpower and crumbling infrastructure, coupled with a boom in litigation, made the judiciary underperform.
  • As a result, courts were buried under cases. New laws were enacted by Parliament without a commensurate increase in judicial officers or courts. For example, dishonour of cheques was made a criminal offence in 1988.
  • There are an existimated 38 lakh such cases pending before magistrates across India.
  • This took away manpower from other cases, with a cascading effect on pendency. There are reportedly about 3.4 crore cases pending across all courts.

Criticising the judiciary:

  • For anyone criticizing the judiciary, they have to see only two things: Crumbling infrastructure and the number of cases dealt with by judges.
  • Unlike a bureaucrat or politician, whose work is primarily to sanction or implement government policy through an army of officers, judicial decision-making is a complex, time-consuming process. It directly affects the rights and livelihoods of persons, which in turn requires hearings on facts, legal precedent and the arguments of lawyers of both parties.
  • For 1.7 billion people in India, there are 31 judges in the SC and 1,079 in high courts. Of the latter, there are never more than 600 judges appointed at any point. Even if the government does not want to increase the numbers (which it should, and drastically), it ought to fill the vacancies over which it squabbles with the SC.

The need of the hour:

  • It should also cut down the number of cases it files in courts, as the Government of India and state governments file the maximum number of cases.
  • A policy should be put in place, and officers made accountable for filing of frivolous cases.
  • It would also be wise for the government to consider that whenever legislation (primarily economic and criminal) which would result in new kinds of disputes arising is proposed, for example, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, additional amounts be provided for setting up of new courts and appointing officers to deal with such cases.
  • Constituting tribunals headed by retired judges is not enough, since cases eventually travel to a criminal court, and then to a high court or the Supreme Court.
  • The government ought to estimate such jumps in the number of cases and increase the judiciary’s budget proportionally.
  • There was a reason why courts were constructed on a grand scale. Grand buildings inspire awe, making people respectful of the place they have come to for justice.
  • Today, the lower courts (except in Delhi) are worse than bus stands. Even high courts are bursting on account of the lack of infrastructure.
  • The salary offered to judges at any level is paltry.
  • Yet, judges work assiduously, without favour or reward, in trying conditions, more than any other branch of the government. It is time the government loosened its purse strings and gave the judiciary a substantial hike.

Source: Indian Express

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