The Union Government’s decision to drop the proposal must be a disappointment to the outgoing CJI, but his successors need to introspect whether the addition of such administrative responsibility to the CJI’s existing ones may augur well for the judiciary.
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The pet project of the outgoing Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’) N.V. Ramana to set up a National Judicial Infrastructure Authority of India (NJIAI) for arranging adequate infrastructure for courts had made no headway since no consensus could be arrived at on the proposal, and accordingly, it was not agreed to. CJI Ramana had mooted an NJIAI run by a Governing Body with the CJI as Patron-in-Chief.
Responding to questions over NIJAI, the Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju informed the Lok Sabha on August 5 that a proposal on the NJIAI was sent to various state government and union territories (‘UTs’), as they constitute an important stakeholder, for their views on the contours of the proposal, to enable taking a considered view on the matter. It was also discussed at the Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices held on April 30 this year.
“After deliberations, since there was no consensus, the proposal was not agreed to”, the Minister told Lok Sabha.
The NJIAI was to act as a central body in laying down the road map for the planning, creation, development, maintenance and management of functional infrastructure for the Indian court system, besides identical structures under all the high courts.
As per the Supreme Court’s registry, 74 per cent of court complexes have separate ladies toilets and 84 per cent have gents’ toilets, 54 per cent court complexes have drinking water facilities with purifiers, 5 per cent complexes have basic medical facilities, and 27 per cent have computers placed on judge’s dais for video conferencing facility, according to the Minister’s response.
He added that the primary responsibility for the development of infrastructure facilities for the judiciary rests with the state governments.
“To augment the resources of the State Governments, the Union Government has been implementing a Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Development of Infrastructure Facilities in district and subordinate courts by providing financial assistance to State Governments / UTs in the prescribed fund sharing pattern. The scheme is being implemented since 1993- 94”, he informed Lok Sabha.
He further mentioned that till now, the Union Government has sanctioned Rs. 9,013 crores under the scheme to states and UTs, out of which Rs. 5,569 crore has been released since 2014- 15, which is around 61.79 per cent of the total release under the scheme.
The high courts informed the Union Ministry of Law and Justice that as of June 30, against a sanctioned strength of 24,623 and working strength of 19,313 judicial officers, a total of 20,993 court halls and 18,502 residential units are available in the District and Subordinate Courts. Besides, a total of 2,677 court halls and 1,659 residential units are under construction, as per the data available on Nyaya Vikas portal.
“The Government has approved the continuance of this CSS for a period of 5 years from 01.04.2021 to 31.03.2026, with a total budgetary outlay of Rs.9,000 crores, including Central share of Rs.5,307 crores. The scheme components have been expanded, to also cover the construction of toilets, digital computer rooms and Lawyers’ Hall, in addition to the Court Halls & Residential Units in the district and subordinate courts. Pursuant to the extension of the scheme and introduction of new features in the scheme, revised guidelines have been issued on 19.08.2021 for implementation of Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Development of Infrastructure Facilities for Judiciary”, the Minister said.
Speaking at the inauguration of the 11th Joint Conference of the Chief Ministers and Chief Justices earlier this year, CJI Ramana had said that the judicial infrastructure, both in terms of personnel and physical infrastructure, needs urgent attention. With the expanding economy and growth in population, the caseload is rising alarmingly, he had warned.
“There is a severe gap between the existing infrastructure and the projected justice needs of the people. The environment of some District Courts is such, even lady advocates feel apprehensive about entering court rooms, let alone female clients. Courts, being temples of justice, should be welcoming and carry the requisite dignity and aura”, he had said. He sought to dispel apprehensions emerging from certain sections on the proposal.
“The proposed authorities are not aimed at usurping the powers of any government. The proposed authorities will have representation from all the stakeholders. It must however be acknowledged that it is the judiciary which understands best its own needs and requirements”, CJI Ramana said in the conference.
The idea of creating a separate infrastructure authority with CJI as the chairperson has come under criticism for other reasons as well.