New Delhi: Only 27 per cent of courtrooms in the subordinate judiciary have computers on judges’ dias while there are still 10 per cent courts that do not have access to proper internet facilities.
These are some of the findings revealed in an all-India survey conducted by the Chief Justice of India’s office, which is part of CJI N.V. Ramana’s proposal to set up a National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation (NJIC) to develop judicial infrastructure in trial courts.
The idea for such an agency was first proposed by CJI Ramana in March this year, even before he took office. Soon after he was sworn in, the CJI commenced work on the NJIC and a survey of 6,000 trial courts in various states was undertaken as part of this exercise.
The survey, accessed by ThePrint, indicated a substantial gap in infrastructure and availability of basic amenities in the lower judiciary such as court halls, residential accommodation, waiting room for litigants in trial courts, especially in smaller towns and rural areas.
According to sources familiar with the developments, CJI Ramana has already worked out a model of the NJIC based on the findings of the survey, which is still underway.
“The survey, which is still on, has provided us with a consolidated data on the deficiencies plaguing trial courts. These deficiencies are there because there is no agency to ensure use of funds allocated to augment judicial infrastructure,” said a source in the Supreme Court.
“Experience shows that budgetary allocation for state judiciary often lapses since there is no independent body to supervise and execute works related to improving court premises. NJIC is expected to fill this vacuum and overcome problems related to infrastructure,” he added.
The CJI has also discussed his proposal with the chief justices of high courts.
“The first round of deliberations was done during the online Chief Justices conference in June. The second round will happen soon and, thereafter, the CJI will finalise the proposal and send it to the government for its approval,” the source noted.
For the survey, the CJI’s office set up an online portal outlining the parameters to be filled by HCs and trial courts.
According to the survey, 22 per cent trial court complexes do not have any toilet facilities for women while 16 per cent don’t have such a facility for men either.
Furthermore, there are 620 court complexes that still operate from rented premises and only 54 per cent of the total complexes have basic medical facilities.
The survey also noted that there are approximately 24,280 judicial officers in trial courts but only 20,143 court halls. About 55 per cent of the trial courts surveyed have a separate room for the staff attached to judges while 54 per cent are equipped with drinking water facilities.
Only 55 per cent courts have centralised filing centres and 31 per cent have meditation halls. Most court complexes also do not have a waiting area for litigants with only 33 per cent buildings with this facility.
Besides this, over 3,900 judges serving in trial courts live in rented residential accommodation. There are also no meeting halls for judges in at least 83 per cent courts and only 51 per cent have library facilities for judicial officers.
The trial courts have also been flouting the top court’s 2017 judgment that directed all public institutions to be disabled-friendly.
Of the 6,000 courts surveyed, 67 per cent do not have provisions to make access easier for people with disabilities.
Reasons behind infrastructural lag
According to sources in the Supreme Court, one of the primary reasons for the infrastructural lag in trial courts is the lack of funds.
To develop judicial infrastructure, funds are extended by the central government and states under the Centrally-Sponsored Scheme for Development of Judiciary Infrastructure, which began in 1993 and was extended for another five years in July this year.
Under the scheme, the ratio of fund sharing between the Centre and state is 60:40 for all states except those in the Northeast and the Himalayan region where it is 90:10.
However, sources noted, states do not come forward with their share of funds and consequently, money allocated under the scheme is often left unspent with them and lapses.
In some cases, they claimed, states have also transferred part of the fund for non-judicial purposes.
Even in the judiciary, particularly trial courts, nobody is willing to take responsibility to execute infrastructure projects, the sources added.
Most district judges, who head trial courts, also do not vigorously pursue development projects due to short-term appointments and transferable jobs among others.
“It is not about resources but how to spend it,” said another source, adding that the NJIC will be an “honest” agency that will monitor the execution of work for which the funds are earmarked.
NJIC will be a specialised body with a guiding role to perform, he explained.
The basic idea behind NJIC was not to leave HC chief justices — who mostly undertake infrastructure-related projects in trial courts — at the mercy of state governments, the source added.
‘Funding, executing & supervisory agency for development’
While the NJIC will be the nodal agency for infrastructural developments, it will not be involved in judicial appointments in trial courts. Appointments will continue to be made by the state governments and the respective high courts.
A third source clarified that the NJIC will be a funding, executing and supervisory agency for development works.
According to the CJI’s proposal, both the central and state governments will contribute their share of funds outlined in the centrally-sponsored scheme to the NJIC, which will then release the finances to the high courts according to their requirement.
The structure of the corporation is likely to be modelled on the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), a national body based in Delhi that provides free legal services.
At the national level, the CJI will be the patron of the NJIC, which will include two senior SC judges, the finance secretary from the central government, two to three senior chief justices of state HCs, and a member of the Niti Aayog.
Each state is likely to have a local corporation as well, which will be led by the state HC chief justice along with a senior judge and senior state government bureaucrats.
“This composition will also ensure regular interaction between the two stakeholders – judiciary and the executive – over improving court infrastructure,” the source said.
The NJIC will not suggest any major policy change but will give complete freedom to HCs to come up with projects to strengthen ground-level courts.
It may recommend a model structure of how a court complex, courtroom or a waiting area for litigants should be. However, it will be up to the high courts to adopt and modify the suggestions according to their requirements.
(Edited by Rachel John)
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.