After Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur’s emotional speech about the impossible burden of pendency and overwork, at a public function attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was the government’s turn on Tuesday to warn the highest judiciary against wasting judicial time on “fruitless” endeavours like entertaining a PIL petition to set up a National Court of Appeal (NCA).
Appearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice Thakur, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi argued strongly against the court referring the PIL petition to a Constitution Bench, even as Chief Justice Thakur said the objective was to suggest reforms and trim pendency.Ushering in change
The PIL, filed by Chennai-based advocate V. Vasanthakumar, suggests setting up NCA with regional benches to act as final courts of justice in criminal and civil cases, thus reducing backlog in the apex court. “I am saying that this PIL should not even be entertained. It is completely fruitless to waste time like this when the court’s dockets are already full,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted.
Chief Justice Thakur said his court was only trying to usher in change.
“You are only adding to the lawyers’ pocket,” Mr. Rohatgi responded. “NCA will add one more level of adjudication and will not help decrease litigation. It will only end up being a boon to advocates. It will mean more expense and hardship to the litigant.”
In a strongly-worded affidavit, the Centre said the NCA cannot be seen from an “isolated perspective of reducing backlog of cases” alone. Mr. Rohatgi suggested systemic changes, rather than starting an entirely new system of appellate courts. Picking holes in the way appeals were admitted in the Supreme Court, the Centre’s affidavit said they should not be entertained in a “routine manner.”
The power conferred under Article 136 (special leave to appeal by the Supreme Court) of the Constitution should be invoked only in very exceptional circumstances. The Supreme Court’s authority to entertain appeals was part of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution. Bifurcation of the judiciary through NCA was a constitutional impossibility, Mr. Rohatgi said.Clear signal
The Centre’s objection comes even as the Supreme Court, under the stewardship of Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur, has sent a clear signal to the government that it intended to push hard and pronounce a judgment on the constitutional viability of having an NCA. Amicus curiae and senior advocate K.K. Venugopal advised the court to seize the opportunity to reclaim its status as a constitutional court.