Published on: 31 December 2022 at 19:30 IST
Let me begin with a disclaimer: I don’t profess or proclaim myself to be a very big hot shot lawyer even though I have worked relentlessly since last 21 years with specialization in criminal law with full sincerity even though I have dealt with in other cases also pertaining to other fields of law.
I must say this with full conviction: The best way to pay utmost respect to the Constitution of India is to ensure that we all live in peace and harmony as enshrined in various Articles also but most of all to ensure that justice is done with people of all religions living in all areas of country equally.
If this we cannot ensure in our country uniformly then we are certainly guilty of disrespecting our Constitution which cannot be justified under any circumstances!
I am most pleased to learn that the new Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr Justice Dhananjaya Yashwant Chandrachud in his speech on Constitution day on November 26, 2022 was very specific in observing most rationally that, “An institution thrives with time only when it functions democratically and the Judges in India, ranging from the district court to the Supreme Court, must reflect upon securing the Constitutional vision of ensuring liberty, equality and fraternity to all.”
It must be noted here that through his address, the CJI Dr DY Chandrachud highlighted the importance of technology in ensuring access to justice and the need for judiciary to reach people instead of people reaching out to the judiciary.
What can be a better way to reach out to people than to create more High Court Benches as was so very commendably recommended by the 230th report of Law Commission of India which was prepared under the Chairmanship of former Supreme Court Judge Dr AR Lakshmanan nearly 14 years ago so that the people like the 10 crore people of West UP are not made to travel all the way till not even Lucknow which falls 200 km before but right uptill Allahabad to seek justice due to which they have to travel whole night and half day about 700 to 750 km away which makes an open mockery of Article 14 of Constitution which talks about the right to equality but the 230th report has not been implemented and only one State named Karnataka has wholly gained from it as two High Court Benches were approved for just 4 and 8 districts at Dharwad and Gulbarga respectively after it submitted its recommendations! Let us now discuss some key points of the 230th report.
Increase in number of judges and creation of new Benches
1.7 In almost every High Court, there is huge pendency of cases and the present strength of the judges can hardly be said to be sufficient to cope with the alarming situation. The institution of cases is much more than the disposal and it adds to arrears of cases.
The litigating citizens have a fundamental right of life i.e. a tension-free life through speedy justice-delivery system. Now it has become essential that the present strength of the judges should be increased manifold according to the pendency, present and probable.
1.8 It is also necessary that the work of the High Courts is decentralized, that is, more Benches are established in all States. If there is manifold increase in the strength of the judges and the staff, all cannot be housed in one campus. Therefore, the establishment of new Benches is necessary. It is also in the interest of the litigants. The Benches should be so established that a litigant is not required to travel long.
1.9 It is true that the new establishments will require money, but it is necessary as a development measure, particularly, when efforts are being made for all-round development of the country. Therefore, the money should not be a problem. We have to watch and protect the interest of the litigants. We must always keep in mind that the existence of judges and advocates is because of the litigants and they are there to serve their cause only.
1.10 Sometimes, some advocates object to creation of new Benches and selection of new sites for construction of new buildings. But they raise objections in their personal, limited interest. Creation of new Benches is certainly beneficial for the litigants and the lawyers and a beginning has to be made somewhere.
1.11 There is huge pendency of cases in the apex court also. Now the time has come when not only the strength of the Hon’ble Judges in the Supreme Court should be increased and recommendations are made to fill up the vacancies soon but new Benches be also established in southern and eastern regions.
1.16 Speedy justice is the right of every litigating person. There is no denying the fact that delay frustrates justice. In the present set-up it often takes 10 – 20 – 30 or even more years before a matter is finally decided. In the recent past, litigation has increased immensely. The population growth, improved financial conditions, lack of tolerance and materialistic way of life may be some of the causes.
But the delay in dispensation of justice has to be eliminated by taking effective steps otherwise the day is not far when the whole system will collapse. Recently, one Hon’ble Judge of Delhi High Court calculated that 464 years will be required to clear the arrears with the present strength of the judges in that High Court. The position may not be that gloomy but is still alarming.
1.17 In Allahabad High Court, more than eight and a half lacs of cases are pending. Criminal appeals of the year 1980-82, criminal revisions of the year 1990-95 are still pending. In second civil appeals and writ matters the position is almost same.
The position is the same in all other High Courts. Institution of cases is much more than disposal and it adds to the arrears almost at all levels of judicial hierarchy. Even in subordinate courts, there is huge pendency of cases.
1.72 The Constitutional promise of securing to all its citizens, justice, social, economic and political, as promised in the Preamble of the Constitution, cannot be realized, unless the three organs of the State i.e. legislature, executive and judiciary, join together to find ways and means for providing the Indian poor, equal access to its justice system.”
While answering the “Unstarred Question No. 595” on July 21, 2022, the Union Law Minister – Shri Kiren Rijiju pointed out that, “The number of cases pending in Supreme Court, High Court and District and Subordinate Courts in the country is as under:-
1. Supreme Court – 72,062 (01.07.2022)
2. High Courts – 59,45,709 (15.07.2022)
3. District and Subordinate Courts – 4,19,79,353 (15.07.2022)
It is most astonishing to note that Uttar Pradesh which tops among all the States in having maximum pending cases crossing the mammoth figure of 10 lakh and still there is just one High Court Bench that was created very close to Allahabad where High Court itself is located at Lucknow way back in 1948 and no High Court Bench ever created since then till now by end of 2022! How can any jurist or judge ever justify this?
When peaceful States like Maharashtra which tops in the State list justice index ranking and still has 4 High Court Benches and so also Assam has 4, Karnataka has 3 and Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal have two then why UP has just one and here too West UP which owes for more than half of pending cases has none?
It is this gross injustice that the lawyers of West UP have always opposed that why not even a single High Court Bench has been created in any nook and corner of UP even after 75 years of independence despite the lawyers protesting so vehemently yet in most disciplined manner!
I must disclose here that when I had initially joined the distinguished Bar at Meerut, I had from very close quarters witnessed for myself how lawyers of West UP at the cost of their livelihood placed people’s interests first and went on a very long 6 months unprecedented strike from July to December in 2001 in support of High Court Bench and even earlier lawyers went on one month hunger strike on numerous occasions as in 1978 but Centre just refused to budge which I find totally incomprehensible!
From 2009 till 2015 we saw how lawyers of West UP went on one month strike or two months strike or four to five months strike but Centre still refused to relent! Apart from this, lawyers of West UP have also went on strike every Saturday since May 1981 till now and many times on Wednesday also which has been discontinued so that litigants don’t have to suffer endlessly but Centre too must act now and it is high time!
It still remains an enigma as to why Eastern UP alone is equipped with Capital, High Court and so also a single High Court Bench leaving the rest of UP high and dry! Centre must reflect on what the former CJI Hon’ble Mr Justice JS Khehar said so very commendably in the case titled “Advisory Jurisdiction, In re special reference No. 1 of 2012” that, “One set of citizens cannot prosper at the cost of another set of citizens, for that would not be fair or reasonable.”
One is filled with anguish and horror to see how Centre has most brazenly decided to not give West UP or even whole of UP a single more Bench in last 75 years! Why is Centre in two minds in an open and shut case? It is disingenuous for Centre to so badly discriminate against West UP and other needy regions of UP like Bundelkhand and Purvanchal! No denying it!
It is high time now and the people of West UP must without wasting any time definitely step forward and join lawyers wholeheartedly in supporting the demand for a High Court Bench as it is they themselves who will benefit the most if it is created in any of the districts of West UP! Instead of resigning to fate, the people must follow what learned and Hon’ble Mr MC Chagla who was Chief Justice of Bombay High Court from 1947 till 1958 had to say on this in his famous book titled “Roses in December” that, “I often hear the remark that it is useless to try to do anything because the government is all-powerful,”.
“But in holding this opinion one also denies the very basis of democracy. If one is a democrat, one has to believe that however powerful the Government may be, public opinion can ultimately assert itself and compel the Government to submit to that opinion,”.
“It is only this faith which can make the working of democratic institutions possible, and as I said in this, lawyers can play a big part”.
Centre too must wake up from deepest slumber and see for itself that it is West UP which deserves High Court Bench and its creation will help people get speedy justice as envisaged in our Constitution! This will be the best tribute to the founding father of our Constitution who believed fully in no discrimination against anyone on any ground whatsoever!
Over and above everything else, what must always stand paramount is the basic, legal and Constitutional right of people to get speedy justice at doorsteps which can be made possible only when more High Court Benches are created in States like UP and Bihar which are mostly in news for one incident of crime or the other yet we see no Bench being created in either of these States in last more than 75 years!
It certainly merits no reiteration that this is just not done and this must definitely change now at the earliest which is possible only if Centre who enjoys people’s decisive mandate acts decisively instead of dishing out one lame excuse or the other to not create a High Court Bench in any nook and corner of UP!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate