May 3, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we debate whether the Chief Justice of India’s (CJI) proposal for a National Judicial Infrastructure Development Authority (NJIA) is necessary. We also look at the proposed semiconductor plant in Karnataka, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Judicial Upkeep – Is A Separate Authority Necessary?
India is known for many things, like its food, culture, tourist spots, etc. It’s also known for some not-so-pleasant things like its messy democracy, corruption, bureaucracy, etc. It’s the last one, bureaucracy, that’s a pebble in the shoe for many in the business community. However, rampant bureaucracy is not limited to business, it’s present elsewhere, like in the judiciary. Can something be done about it?
Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana thinks he has the answer – a National Judicial Infrastructure Development Authority. He believes improving judicial infrastructure is key to improving, what he calls, the dilapidated judicial structures. A central agency to oversee judicial infrastructure. However, the Centre and some states aren’t on board.
Last October, while inaugurating the annexe building of the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court, CJI Ramana called attention to improving judicial infrastructure to improve access to justice. He said judicial infrastructure in India has always been an afterthought, hindering judicial functioning and access.
Judicial infrastructure includes the physical premises of courts, lawyers’ chambers, tribunals, etc. It also includes the digital and human infrastructure that’s necessary to ensure the timely dispensation of justice. As the pandemic set in, the digital infrastructure aspect came to the forefront. Only a third of lower courts had basic digital facilities like a computer at the judge’s bench and video conferencing capabilities.
As of March 2020, the number of cases pending across the country was 3.68 crores. From March 2020 to April 2021, the pendency of cases increased by 19% to 4.4 crores. It was an all-time high as the backlog of cases at the Supreme Court and High courts, and in about 19,000 district and subordinate courts increased to record levels.
The pendency problem isn’t new. The average disposal rate between 2015 and 2019 was about 1.8 million cases a year. The problem became worse when the number of cases instituted was higher than disposed of. Pendency is also known to affect business in India. Per the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business rankings, India ranked 163 out of 190.
Keeping the economy and business in mind, pendency has also affected specialised tribunals. As the Indian economy liberalised and opened up in the 1990s, statutory tribunals were set up across economic sectors to settle disputes. One example is the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) that’s responsible for resolving debt issues. Due to inadequate infrastructure, it has been unable to follow the mandated time limits proposed by the new Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.
Among the issues plaguing the Indian judiciary are the growing number of new cases with a slow disposal rate and judicial vacancies. India has fewer judges per capita than other countries. One of the tenets of judicial infrastructure is productivity. It’s the ratio of judges to case disposals in a year. Any solid metric on this is publically unavailable, but increasing the number of judges would help.
Is CJI Ramana’s proposal for a central agency to oversee and execute judicial infrastructure necessary? Or is the Centre doing enough already in terms of funding and execution?
VIEW: The right solution
Any central agency to improve the judiciary’s infrastructure will involve representation from all stakeholders, including representatives from the central and state governments. That being said, when CJI Ramana recently spoke about the need for the agency, he said the judiciary best understands its own needs and requirements. Speaking about the backward state of judicial infrastructure, he said even some women advocates feel unsafe.
He also expressed concern about the government being the biggest litigant, accounting for almost 50% of cases. Due to the shortage of judges, the problem of pendency inevitably gets blamed on the judiciary. Justice Ramana isn’t the first to bring attention to this. In 2016, then Chief Justice TS Thakur broke down while talking about the shortage of judges and the large backlog of cases. It results in an increased workload for judges. Anything concerning judicial infrastructure is still done on an ad-hoc basis with minimal planning.
There’s also the issue of monetary allocation. Under the centrally sponsored scheme to states and union territories, ₹981.98 crores were sanctioned in 2019-20 to develop infrastructure in the courts. Of this, only ₹84.9 crores were utilised by a combined five states. This didn’t happen just due to the pandemic, though it did worsen it. A central agency would bring financial autonomy with some streamlining instead of multiple agencies, in which case, funds often lapse.
COUNTERVIEW: Federalism and accountability issues
There’s a danger for such an agency to go the way of similar ones and have minimal impact. One example is the National Green Tribunal which has struggled to make an impact. There’s also a need to properly identify the problem that necessitates the creation of another large central agency. As the CJI proposes financial autonomy, it could backfire with funds remaining dormant.
Some states are opposed to the NJIA. State governments don’t necessarily want to contribute money to the central agency. They could spend it on judicial infrastructure themselves, as is the current practice. Given the role of the CJI in such an agency, the issue of accountability also arises. How will the agency and the CJI be accountable to the states? Will they be forced by the agency or Parliament to provide funds? A better approach would be to have an agency at the state level.
Financing judicial infrastructure projects is a complex task that requires coordination between various state government departments, including the district collectorate, the Public Works Department, and the Finance Ministry. The point that some detractors of the proposal have stated is that it would be a waste of a judge’s time to be spent on infrastructure projects. While judicial infrastructure is the underlying issue, merely improving judicial infrastructure isn’t the silver bullet. The underlying issue of administrative reforms could get lost in the weeds.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The National Judicial Infrastructure Development Authority is required.
b) The National Judicial Infrastructure Development Authority is not required.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Why they are afraid of Jignesh Mevani
For the Left:
How Jaishankar’s recent statements convey that India is no pushover in post-Cold War world
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Hike in minimum wage (Sikkim) – On International Labour Day, CM Prem Singh Golay said that the minimum wage of non-regularised labourers will be bumped up to ₹15,000 under the Minimum Wages Act. He also said that the state government will continue its efforts to regularise the workers’ employment, improve service conditions and add more protections from exploitative contractors.
Why it matters: According to Transport Minister Sanjit Kharel, the state has registered a significant decrease in labour unrest. At this point, 90% of active labourers are working for the state’s development. Even as this was said, the Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum (SPYF) was organising a parallel event to demand an increase in the minimum wage to ₹21,000. They also want the withdrawal of cases against workers filed during the pandemic.
Water schemes affected (Himachal Pradesh) – The officials of the state’s Irrigation and Public Health (IPH) Department have raised alarms of possible water cuts in the coming days. The high temperature and no rain have adversely affected 527 water schemes in the state. This covers about 5% of all the water schemes run by the IPH Department. While the situation isn’t dire as of now, the future of the water supply in the state seems shaky.
Why it matters: Officials are specifically worried about the Dharamsala region as it mostly relies on surface water which is used by those 527 schemes. According to sources, if there isn’t any rain in the fortnight, the people of the region will have to face major shortages of water. Right now, the Engineer-in-Chief IPH Sanjeev Kaul said that the department is looking into possible contingency plans to deal with the worst.
Study the ₹1 clinic (Odisha) – Assistant professor, Dr Shankar Ramchandani, of VIMSAR founded the “One Rupee” clinic to serve the destitute in the country. Now, IIM-Lucknow says that they will conduct a study on the management of the initiative. The aim of the study will be to cover ways of improving healthcare services at the primary level across the nation and at far cheaper prices.
Why it matters: In February 2021, Dr Ramchandani set up the first “One Rupee” clinic in the Sambalpur district. Reportedly, he sees around 20-30 people every day, and last year, he treated around 7,000 people while charging them ₹1 for all his services. This includes providing patients with medication. Most of the medication is either bought wholesale or through the Jan Aushadi scheme.
“Delhi model” in tribal belt (Gujarat) – Campaign season is upon the state as it is scheduled to enter polls in December. Now, Kejriwal and his party associates are talking about replicating the AAP’s Delhi successes in the tribal belt of Gujarat. Something that has resonated with quite a few of its residents. Given the party’s alliance with the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), the voters of the belt have grown even softer to the idea of AAP in charge.
Why it matters: This AAP-BTP alliance has given the latter a new hope for the future. Its foothold over the state has been shrinking and the current political winds seem to favour the AAP more than most others. Their main goal besides securing more seats is to implement the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, and the Fifth Schedule in Gujarat’s tribal belt.
Semiconductor plant (Karnataka) – The state government has partnered up with an Israeli firm, ISMC Analog Fab Private Ltd, to set up a plant for semiconductor fabrication. The company will set the proposed project up over seven years, and it will have a hiring potential of 1,500 people. CM Basavaraj Bommai said that the memorandum of understanding signed between the two doesn’t just provide a forum for tech but also cultural exchanges.
Why it matters: This will be India’s first semiconductor plant. According to the government, India’s semiconductor market was worth $15 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $63 billion by 2026. Right now, the Centre plans on making the country the next hub for semiconductor production. Something that has hit a wall globally during the pandemic. Experts believe that the semiconductor shortage was a long time coming.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
87% – According to a NewsVoir report, India is home to the highest number of fintech adopters at 87%. The global average is only about 64%. The report also states that the Indian fintech market is expected to reach $150 billion by 2023.