Two proposals by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana didn’t find favour with the Centre —and some BJP-ruled states — at the conference of Chief Justices and Chief Ministers Saturday: a statutory authority at the national level for infrastructure development for the judiciary; and a plan to appoint retired High Court judges on an ad hoc basis to address the issue of shortage on the bench.
Instead, there was an agreement on setting up state-level bodies to address the infrastructural needs of courts. The Centre also agreed to consider the grant of a one-time additional financial assistance for infrastructure development to states after some initial reservations.
Sources said CJI Ramana had proposed that a CJI-headed National Judicial Infrastructure Development Authority of India be set up at the national level and a similar mechanism headed by High Court Chief Justices in the states. Some Opposition-ruled states like Kerala pointed out that a mechanism without encroaching into the rights of the states was acceptable.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said he had no objection to the proposal but argued that such an authority would not be needed if the Centre provides funds for infrastructure development of district courts.
Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, however, is learnt to have objected saying there was no need for such a special mechanism. He is said to have argued that the Centre was allocating funds and the executive would implement the development of infrastructure. Some BJP-ruled states took a similar position.
The differences led to lengthy discussions after which the proposal was withdrawn. But a mechanism at the state level would be set up, headed by either the Chief Minister or his representative and the Chief Justice of the High Court, to monitor spending of funds, implementation and follow-up action.
Addressing a joint press conference with CJI Ramana at the end of the day’s meeting, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said: “I’m happy that the Chief Ministers and Chief Justices have agreed that the body will be created at the state-level with the involvement of the honourable Chief Ministers and the Chief Justices, or their nominees…we are ready to assist the state governments for creating judicial infrastructure at state-level, especially for the district courts, lower judiciary…”.
The CJI said that the meeting deliberated on the setting up of the infrastructure authority which he had suggested in his letter dated October 10, 2021.
He added that the meeting had passed two resolutions Friday one of which was that “National Judicial Infrastructure Authority of India along with complementary state bodies be created as special purpose vehicle that will act as chief coordinator as well as driving force for augmentation, creation of judicial infrastructure as per the proposals sent by Honourable Chief Justice of India to the Union Government”. “After discussions, there was near unanimity amongst Chief Ministers in adopting the aforesaid two Chief Justices Conference resolutions relating to such bodies to be established at state-level…However, there was suggestion to include Chief Minister or nominee in the body at the state-level. Most of the states have agreed to adopt this model…”, he said.
Another issue which came up was appointment of retired High Court judges on an ad hoc basis to address the shortage judges. The Centre objected to that proposal too after which the issue was deferred.
Sources said as many as 388 posts of High Court judges are lying vacant. In the Ahmedabad High Court there are 66 vacancies; followed by 37 in Bombay High Court; 37 in the Punjab and Haryana High Court; 33 in the Calcutta High Court; 26 in the Patna High Court, 25 in the Delhi High Court and 24 in the Rajasthan High Court.
The Centre reportedly said it had earlier told the Supreme Court that it was not in favour of appointing ad hoc judges to fill up vacancies. That option can be looked at if the work load is high even after filling up all the vacancies.
Sources said the appointment of High Court judges also came up for discussion with the judiciary pointing out that the appointment should be made within a specified time frame on the basis of the 1993 verdict in the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association and Another vs Union of India case and a 2008 judgement.
Talking about pendency of cases, sources said West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee pointed out that a large number of politically motivated PILs are being filed against the government in the Calcutta High Court at the behest of a political party, taking away the valuable time of the Court.
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Baghel pointed out that there should be better dialogue (behtar samvad) between Chief Ministers and Chief Justices. He said all issues can be resolved only through dialogue and conversation.
Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana Bhagwant Mann and M L Khattar referred to the need for establishing separate High Courts for the two states — in Chandigarh itself.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan suggested setting up a body at the panchayat level to resolve issues to address the issue of pendency. Kerala Law Minister P Rajeeve pointed out that the state has not received any financial support from the Finance Commission for digitalisation of High Court and subordinate courts. He demanded that the Centre grant funds to the states for such purposes.
(With Ananthakrishnan G)