Governments ignoring court orders, says CJI

‘Contempt petitions pose new burden on judiciary’

April 30, 2022 11:58 am | Updated May 01, 2022 10:58 am IST - New Delhi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, during the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers of States and Chief Justices of High Courts, in New Delhi, on Saturday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, during the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers of States and Chief Justices of High Courts, in New Delhi, on Saturday. | Photo Credit: R.V. MOORTHY

The sheer “defiance” of governments towards judicial pronouncements, their inclination to pass off the responsibility of decision-making to courts and the legislature’s ambiguity, lack of foresight and public consultation before making laws had led to docket explosion, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said here on Saturday. It had forced the judiciary to dabble in policy to render justice to the common man, he added at a joint conference of Chief Justices and Chief Ministers attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The CJI pointed to how courts, already overburdened, had to deal with the “new problem” of “contempt petitions” triggered by the “deliberate inaction” of governments that chose to ignore judgments and orders. “The contempt petitions are a new category of burden on the courts, which is a direct result of the defiance by the governments. Deliberate inaction by the governments, despite judicial pronouncements, is not good for the health of democracy.” he said.

“The judiciary is also confronted with the issue of the executive willingly transferring the burden of decision-making to it. Though policy-making is not our domain, if a citizen comes to the court, with a prayer to address his grievance, the courts it cannot say no…,” CJI Ramana said.

Though all should be mindful of their  Lakshman Rekha and the judiciary, least of all, does not want to interfere in governance if it is done in accordance with law, the “non-performance of the various wings of the government” and “legislature not realising its full potential” had forced the courts to intervene in the past, he said. These two factors were burdens the judicial system could be spared if the government and legislature perked up, he said.

“Ambiguities in legislation add to existing legal issues. If the legislature passes a law, with clarity of thought, foresight and with people’s welfare in mind, the scope for litigation gets minimised. The legislature is expected to solicit the views of the public and debate the Bills, clause by clause, threadbare, before enacting a law,” Chief Justice Ramana said.

Caution on PILs

A constant flow of self-serving cases in the guise of public interest litigation (PIL) petitions take up precious judicial time. The CJI said PIL pleas, once a well-meaning concept, had slipped into petitions filed to settle political scores and corporate rivalry. The courts had become “highly cautious” in entertaining them.

Judicial strength

Sanctioned judicial strength continued to be disproportionate to the burgeoning case load faced by district courts, High Courts and the Supreme Court. To prove his point, the CJI showed the difference in statistics in the six years between the last conference in 2016 and the current one.

“When we last met in 2016, the sanctioned strength of judicial officers in the country was 20,811. Now, it is 24,112, which is an increase of 16% in six years. On the other hand, in the corresponding period, pendency in district courts has gone up from 2.65 crore to 4.11 crore, which is an increase of 54.64%. This data shows how inadequate the increase in the sanctioned strength is… Unless the foundation is strong, the structure cannot be sustained,” Chief Justice Ramana pointed out.

He said there were 388 judicial vacancies in various High Courts out of 1,104 sanctioned posts. The Supreme Court Collegium had made 180 recommendations in 2021, of which 126 appointments were made. Another 50 proposals were still awaiting the Centre’s approval. Besides this, the various High Courts had recommended 100 more names for judicial appointments, but the government had not yet forwarded them to the Supreme Court Collegium. The delay comes at a time when India had an “alarmingly low” ratio of just around 20 judges per 10 lakh population.

“Please remember, it is only the judicial process that is adversarial. Not the judges or their judgments. We are merely discharging our constitutionally assigned role. Judgments are meant for delivering justice and should be seen as such. Let us work together for fulfilling the constitutional mandate,” Chief Justice Ramana urged the government side.

He spoke of how important the factor of inclusivity was to the judiciary. “The judiciary, as well as every other institution of our democracy, must mirror the social and geographical diversity of the country,” the CJI noted.

The CJI proposed special purpose vehicles or ‘judicial infrastructure authorities’ at both national and State levels to study, allocate funds and implement judicial infrastructure developments.

“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 best understands its own needs and requirements,” the CJI said.

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