Can the judiciary also reflect please

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The  nullifying of the NJAC Act has put the spotlight on the Judiciary.

Concepts  like transparency, being open to change, leading from the front,  management of perceptions that were reserved for the Executive  earlier are now relevant for the Judiciary as well, says Sanjeev  Nayyar.

Now that the debate  with respect to the scrapping of the National Judicial Appointments  Commission Act, 2014 has ebbed, it is time to look at some issues  affecting the judicial system dispassionately.

At the outset I must  state that I amongst the millions who thank the courts for their  judgements on scams like 2G and Coalgate, amongst others.

At various points  the courts have asked the Executive to improve the quality of  governance. While that is laudable note that there are 61,300 cases pending (external link) before the Supreme Court as on March 1.

Can the incoming  Chief Justice of India let the nation know:

1. How does the  Supreme Court propose to clear this backlog and within what time  frame?

2. Key changes in  procedures that will that lead to quicker disposition of cases?

3. What changes  should be made to existing laws so as to reduce litigation?

The intent behind  enlightening people is for better appreciation of the work being  done, to initiate a debate on simplification of laws, bring  transparency and make the system accountable.

Further, as per an  NDTV report (external link) of December 7, 2014, 'The data available for  the 24 high courts and lower courts up to the year ending 2013 showed  pendency of 44.5 lakh and 2.6 crore respectively.'

Can the chief  justice of every high court similarly publish action on points 1 to  3.

According to a Business Standard report (external link) World Bank country Director Onno Ruhl said  on enforcing contracts, 'This is notoriously difficult because it  deals with the judicial system.'

Also, Alok Prasanna  Kumar, senior resident fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy  wrote, 'The two main areas where the World Bank's report faults India  is in the time it takes to resolve a case, and the cost of enforcing  a contractual claim.'

This link to the  World Bank Group site gives ranking in 'Enforcing Contracts'. It  indicates time taken for trial and judgement at 1,095 days and  enforcement of judgement 305 days, quality of judicial processes has  a score of 7.5 out of 18. India's ranking (external link) in enforcement of contracts has to improve  if India has to better its rankings in the Ease of Doing Business.  The judiciary and the law ministry must work together to find  solutions.

Is the judiciary  over extending itself?

1. Recently,  Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, in order to save  energy, ordered replacement of yellow sodium vapour lights on  Mumbai's iconic Marine Drive with energy efficient white LED lights.  In response to a PIL, the Bombay high court ordered that instead of  sodium lamps, the state should use yellow LED lights since that  golden glow should remain on the Queen's Necklace.(Source)

According to this Hindustan Times report (eexternal link), in response to a PIL urging the  reservation of a separate compartment for senior citizens the Bombay  high court asked, 'Why do so many people travel towards South Mumbai  each day? Why are local trains so overcrowded during non-peak hours?  The court has directed the Maharashtra government and the railways to  conduct a survey to understand its daily passenger demographic on  local trains.'

Without getting into  the merits or demerits, what is the matter of law in these cases?  Should courts be concerned with the colour of lights or passenger  traffic?

2. Delhi's polluted  air: According to this Business Standard editorial (external link, 'The National Green Tribunal's recent ruling  imposing what is in effect a tax on diesel-powered trucks and light  commercial vehicles entering the capital, later confirmed by the  Supreme Court. Anything between 22,000 and 38,000 trucks use these  entry points every night.'

Collection of tax  would require vehicles to stand in long lines, 'combustion engines  emit considerably more when idling in traffic than otherwise, it is  far from clear how much of a net positive for the air the collection  of this tax by contractors would be.'

Imposition of this  tax would increase living costs, a decision for which the NGT is not  accountable to the common man. It might have been better for the  Supreme Court to urge the respective state governments to complete  the much-needed bypass network in a time-bound manner.

3. Court raps govt  over rising farmers' deaths in Marathwada region: According to a

Hindustan Times report of October 8, 'the Bombay high court issued notice to the  state government seeking its response to the alarming rise in  instances of farmers committing suicides in the Marathwada region.  The two honourable judges sought a detailed ground report from the  state.'

'The high court also  directed the government to enlist steps it has taken so far --  particularly details of efforts for assisting farmers in repaying  bank loans, availing of new loans,

conserving water and  in growing non-water intensive crops to help farmers in the region.'

Whilst appreciating  the court's concern, does this fall under the domain of the  Judiciary?

Courts have provided  relief in many cases when citizens were faced with an indecisive or  insensitive government for example, 'Courts intervened in the Ram  Setu case arising out of the government's refusal to pay heed  people's concerns about its effect on environment and their religious  concerns, land acquisition in Singur as matters took an ugly turn.'  (Source)

Sometimes courts are  the last resort for citizens. According to this Hindustan Times report (external link), 'The Akhil Maharashtra Machchhimar Kruti  Samiti has approached the court, challenging closure of the age-old  fishing port at Girgaum chowpatty by the Maharshtra government.'

4. Columnist M J  Antony recently wrote (external link), 'Despite 65,000 cases in arrears, the court  has enough adrenaline to consider issues such as ban on Sardarji  jokes on Web sites, polygamy among Muslims and creating a safe  corridor for wild elephants crossing rail lines.'

Is a review of  priorities the need of the hour?

5. Supreme Court  notice to Centre over improper implementation of MGNREGA. According  to this Business Standard report (external link) the Supreme Court today took note of a PIL  alleging improper implementation of the National Rural Employment  Guarantee Act in terms of timely payment of wages and compensation  and asked the government to make the payments promptly.

'States should wake  up and make prompt payments,' a bench comprising Chief Justice H L  Dattu and Justice Amitava Roy said while issuing notice to the  ministry of rural development.'

Did those who wrote  the Constitution envisage that the Supreme Court would be asking  governments to make timely payments? The question that an aam  aadmi may ask is, whether there is a dispute between parties or  does this matter involve interpretation of law and how does timely  payment of wages concern the Supreme Court?

Can the Supreme  Court increase transparency? A few examples of what can be done:

1. According to a article (external link) in The Hindu, 'The Supreme Court  claimed before the Central Information Commission that declaration of  assets by the judges before the chief justice was "voluntary"  as per the resolution adopted by full bench of the Supreme Court in  1997 and cannot be accessed by public under the Act.'

As on November 13,  out of the 28 Supreme Court judges, 24 have voluntarily declared  their assets on the Supreme Court Web  site (external link). The high court Web sites of  Bombay, Calcutta, Allahabad, Guwahati, Patna do not disclose assets  of judges whilst those Madras, Bangalore, Delhi do.

A couple of humble  suggestions

1. The Judiciary  should make it mandatory for all Supreme and high court judges to  declare their assets and have them published on respective Web sites.  In all cases, the statement of assets must indicate it is as of what  date. Also, it should be updated every five years just like new  members of Parliament do.

2. According to this Indian Express report (external link) of July 2012, 'Of the 21 judges to have  retired from the Supreme Court since January 2008, 18 got jobs in  different government commissions and tribunals.'

Can the Supreme  Court draft guidelines on appointment of judges post-retirement.

3. According to this Indian Express report of  October 2015, 'The high court judge who stopped Himachal Chief  Minister Virbhadra Singh arrest was his former lawyer: CBI to Supreme  Court.'

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