While the Chief Justice of India inaugurated a Fast Track Court (FTC) at Delhi and exhorted the High Courts to act likewise, a Bench of the Supreme Court, in Brij Mohan Lal vs Union of India and Others, 2005, allowed the Central and State governments to close down over 1,500 FTCs on the ground that funds were not available.
FTCs were started by the Central government pursuant to the observations of the First National Judicial Pay Commission, 1999, the 120th Report of the Law Commission on Manpower Planning in the judiciary, the report on Crime in India published by the National Crime Records Bureau and the lamentations of every Chief Justice of India who used the Law Day address to highlight the mounting arrears and the paucity of funds available to the judiciary.
The winding up of these courts despite their fair performance and the huge arrears that needed to be tackled was justified by the central government on the incredible argument that the 13th Finance Commission had recommended a grant of Rs.5,000 crore for improving the justice delivery system and that out of this Rs.2500 crore was to be spent on courts working in shifts, Lok Adalats, the Legal Services Authorities, Alternate Disputes Resolution and the judicial academies for trainings. Thus due to the shift in perspective, money could no longer be spent on FTCs.
After saying this, the Supreme Court inexplicably accepted the argument of government that the court should not interfere since the FTCs are already closed down and the Supreme Court merely requested the Central government to “reconsider allocating some amount” for absorbing some of the FTC judges in the regular judiciary.
Direction in two cases
This submissive surrender to the executive was contrary to S.P. Gupta vs President of India and Others, 1981 where it was held that it was “a primary duty of the state to provide for fair and efficient administration of justice.” The Court held that it was the duty of the President under Article 216 of the Constitution to appoint a sufficient number of judges and that the Courts had the power to direct the executive to do so. In the second All India Judges’ case (1993), the Court directed the government to implement the recommendations of the Justice Shetty Commission Report on service conditions for judges so as to maintain the independence of the judiciary.
In the Third All India Judges Association case, the Supreme Court felt that the “time has now come for protecting the judicial system” by directing an increase in the judges strength from 13 per million population to 50 judges per million.
The mere fact that the FTCs have been discontinued should not deter the Chief Justice of India from reviewing this judgment on a Constitutional Bench and directing the Central and State governments to increase the budgets for the judiciary five times and appoint thousands of judges and establish thousands of courts. The judiciary has for many years taken the blame for delay in the dispensation of justice and the arrears in the courts. The time has come for the blame to be placed correctly — at the door of the Prime Minister of India.