The state of judicial infrastructure
Polity & Governance
28th Dec, 2021
There is a substantial gap in infrastructure and availability of basic amenities in the judiciary. These gaps or deficiencies are there because there is no agency to ensure use of funds allocated to augment judicial infrastructure.
In this regard, the brief aims to analyze the concept of the proposed National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation and how it can help the address the persistent issues.
What is Judicial Infrastructure?
- Judicial infrastructure includes the physical premises of courts, tribunals, lawyers’ chambers, and so on.
- It also involves the digital and human resources infrastructure, including the availability of all the resources that are essential to ensure timely dispensation of justice.
- Key issues: Key issues like land allocations, tendering, and award of contract, site inspections require active coordination amongst multiple entities.
Why Judicial infrastructure matters?
- Better productivity: The positive correlation between adequate judicial infrastructure and productivity in justice delivery are empirically well-established.
- Efficient performance: Adequate and quality judicial infrastructure are the basic pre-requisite for judges, lawyers, and judicial officers to efficiently perform their responsibilities while dispensing justice.
- Reduced delay and backlogs: Adequacy of judicial infrastructure is a pre-condition for reducing delay and backlogs in cases. There is a direct connection between physical infrastructure, personnel infrastructure, digital infrastructure, and pendency.
- Essential during difficult times: Criticality of adequate judicial infrastructure, particularly the digital, was very much felt during the course of the pandemic when courts were forced to opt for virtual mode.
What are the reasons behind infrastructural lag?
- Lack of funds: One of the primary reasons for the infrastructural lag in trial courts is the lack of funds.
Scheme for Development of Judiciary Infrastructure
- To develop judicial infrastructure, funds are extended by the central government and states under the Centrally-Sponsored Scheme for Development of Judiciary Infrastructure, which began in 1993 and was extended for another five years in July this year.
- Under the scheme, the ratio of fund sharing between the Centre and state is 60:40 for all states except those in the Northeast and the Himalayan region where it is 90:10.
However, states do not come forward with their share of funds and consequently, money allocated under the scheme is often left unspent with them and lapses.
- Underutilization of funds: Not only lack of funds, but underutilization of funds meant for specific judicial infrastructure projects does not help either.
- Poor budgetary allocations: Even after more than seven decades of independence, the budgetary allocations, including states, are still below 1 percent of the GDP.
How would National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation resolve the crisis?
The proposed concept
- The proposed NJIAI could work as a central agency with each State having its own State Judicial Infrastructure Authority, much like the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) model.
- It has also been suggested that the Chief Justice of India could be the patron-in-chief of the NJIAI, like in NALSA, and one of the Supreme Court judges nominated by the Chief Justice could be the executive chairman.
- Speedy implementation: The National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation (NJIC)would act as a coordinating agency to speed up the works.
- End bureaucratic hurdles: It would include the CJI, judges of the Supreme Court, and high courts, finance secretaries of the Centre and states concern. It can quickly end bureaucratic hurdles and challenges of coordination amongst multiple bodies.
- Ensuring smooth funding process: The proposed body is intended to monitor and address the issues of delay in land allotment, funds diversion for non-judicial purposes, evasion of responsibilities by the high courts and trial courts, amongst others.
Criticism of the concept
- There are doubts about NJIC’s necessity and the roles it desires to play.
- Centralization of powers under a new body would go against the principles of federalism.
- The NJIC cannot force the states to spend more or concede powers to a new body.
- There is concern regarding priority to be given by judges to infrastructure projects or to mounting backlog of cases.
In India, the judicial infrastructure really needs a big push. In this regard, the NJIC can make critical intervention in key issues which are responsible for poor infrastructure and can open the doors for speedy resolution.