Day 11 Arguments

Judicial Vacancies in the Lower Courts

Judicial Vacancies: Day 11 Arguments

Chief Justice Gogoi has taken suo moto cognisance of the high number of vacant judicial posts and lack of judicial infrastructure in the District and Subordinate courts. A three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court is monitoring steps taken by High Courts and State Governments to fill vacant judicial posts in the District and Subordinate Courts.

Today, the Bench heard amicus curiae Vijay Hansaria on the status of funding for judicial infrastructure by the Central and State Governments. Senior Advocate Vijay Hansaria is assisting the Court to monitor the State of Madhya Pradesh and the High Courts of Madras, Odisha, Patna and Punjab and Haryana. Mr. Hansaria informed the Court that he had filed an initial report listing the short term plans and had sought an adjournment on the previous date as he wanted to file a supplementary note to detail the long term plan for ensuring availability of funds for providing adequate infrastructure for both Courts and residential purposes.  He informed the Court of the meeting that had been held on January 31st, 2019 to discuss the issue of sufficiency of funds by the Central Government.

Mr. Vijay Hansaria also submitted before the Court that there had been a dip in the percentage of funds being granted by the Central governments to States. He submitted that since the 2014-2015 period,  funding has decreased from over 900 Crores to approximately 600 Crores, from 75% to 60% of total expected funds. He also mentioned that there were instances where the Central Government had failed to allocate any funding to States in the year prior to 2018-2019. He conceded that this was partially caused by the fact that the demand for funds was only raised in 2018. Further, he brought to the Court’s attention that there was a significant discrepancy between the amount of funding required and how much individual State Governments were demanding. He cited the example of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, which had received 177 Crores — more than the 6 bigger States in the country.

Next, Mr. Hansaria referred to the guidelines prepared by the Central Government on May 16th, 2018, which address court infrastructure and judicial officer residences. The guidelines require States seeking Central Government grants to submit an action plan. This action plan must include specific formulas and procedures, which the Centre will use to evaluate the grant. In addition, the guidelines recommend the establishment of monitoring committees, at both the central and state levels. These monitoring committees will function partially via a digital platform that allows for online app-based monitoring. Further, the guidelines even set specific court hall parameters for each cadre of officials, to avoid any issues at the stage of allotments. Note that the guidelines do not specify anything about High Courts.

Mr. Vijay Hansaria presented three arguments as to why the Central Government must ensure that it provides adequate funding to States. First, he submitted that it was the Central Government that was primarily responsible for the administration of the judiciary. He cited the 42nd amendment to the Constitution.

Secondly, Mr. Hansaria submitted that the Centre failed to explain the substantial decrease in funds. He emphasised that he majority of the adjudication of disputes at the District Court level were under the Central Legislation.

Lastly, Mr. Hansaria referred to the decision in Imtiaz Ahmed v State of U.P to submit that the shortage of judges was another issue that was to be addressed by the Central Government. The Judges to population ratio across States was unsatisfactory with the pendency docket per judge being as high as 2000 cases in some states like West Bengal. The Central Government must therefore make a one time investment to increase the number of judges per milia, or in the alternative increase the percentage of funding and do so keeping in mind a 5 year plan for improvement of the conditions at the level of the subordinate judiciary.

Mr. Hansaria informed the Court that there was a need for over 2500 Courts across states and asked the Court to direct the release of funds. He submitted that a proposal had been submitted and requested the Centre to submit a report on the same within 2 months. Additionally, he submitted that the High Court Monitoring Committees must overlook the process of submission for all pending proposals for Courts and where certificates of utilisation are filed by State Governments, the funds must be granted by the Centre.

The Court has taken the submissions of Mr. Hansaria on record and issued the following directions:

  1. The Central Government to release funds within two months to the extent Utilization Certificates have been sent by the respective State Governments and submit compliance report to the Supreme Court;
  2. The State Government(s) to submit pending utilisation certificate(s) to the Central Government within four weeks and furnish information in the format annexed with the present order within a period of six weeks to this Court;
  3. The Central Government may disburse the amounts and/or give a response within two months of furnishing pending utilization certificates by the State Government and submit a compliance report to this Court;
  4. Copies of all reports submitted by the Central Government and the States/UTs to this Court would be simultaneously sent/furnished to Shri Vijay Hansaria, learned Amicus Curiae so that in case of necessity, appropriate directions may be sought from this Court.

The matter will be heard on 24th April.