J. Venkatesan , THE HINDU NEW DELHI
“I requested the government to conduct an enquiry and convey the findings to me, says the Chief Justice of India.” In a special interview to The Hindu in New Delhi on January 9, he spoke on a wide range of issues relating to the judiciary
(“I hope I have done reasonably well in the matter of appointments, and in other areas. But I can’t say I am fully satisfied,” Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan says with humility, as he goes on to complete three years in office on January 13. In a special interview to The Hindu in New Delhi on January 9, he spoke on a wide range of issues relating to the judiciary. Excerpts:)
You are completing three years in office this week. Are you satisfied with your overall performance? Do you feel much more could have been done?
I cannot say I am fully satisfied because setting up new courts, filling up vacancies … these are all things which will take years. But I feel the three years have, by and large, been satisfactory.
Have your efforts yielded the desirable results, particularly in the area of disposal of cases?
On the disposal of cases in the High Courts, I don’t have statistics at present. But all I can say is there is lot of improvement in the overall rate of disposal. Even in the Allahabad High Court, where the pendency was large, some old matters have been disposed of. In the Madras High Court and some other High Courts, where there is a fairly good strength of judges, pendency has come down.
In the Supreme Court the disposal rate is high. A total of 71,000 cases were filed in 2009. We disposed of nearly 69,000 cases. The overall pendency now, I think, is 54,000 or 56,000 cases.
What do you think is the solution? Creation of more courts?
A court can handle not more than 200 cases which can be disposed of in six months. At the most 400 cases … if it is more than 400 cases, it is difficult. On an average now, more than 1,000 cases are filed in a court. Maybe in remote areas, the number is less.
We need at least another 35,000 courts. Going by any standard in any country, the number of courts is far, far less in our country. Even in a small country like Israel, there are so many courts. One thing every government should ensure is that cases are not blocked. The government will get more revenue because many tax cases have been pending in various High Courts for a long time. Look at the criminal justice delivery system …everybody is saying cases should be completed in reasonable time. But serious efforts are not being taken to address the problem.
Is there a proposal to set up a Kerala High Court Bench in Thiruvananthapuram?
Some political parties and lawyers in Thiruvananthapuram have demanded a High Court Bench. But the High Court has not sent any proposal. It has to be approved by the High Court Chief Justice, only then the President can act on it.
You were in favour of setting up 60 additional CBI courts. What is the progress?
I find that corruption cases in CBI courts have been pending for more than 10 to 11 years. These cases must be disposed of. That is why I suggested 60 additional courts. The government has approved the proposal. I feel it should have been done.
In how many States are evening courts functioning?
They are working well in Delhi, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Bangalore. We have a scheme — the judge who works late is paid 30 per cent additional salary. The staff who work between 5 pm and 8 pm also get additional salary. We encourage only lawyers with less than seven years of practice to appear in these courts.
Do you think the allocation of funds for the judiciary should be increased?
The problem is the High Courts do not have the technical knowhow on preparing the budget on, say, what would be the next year’s expenses on the judiciary. The Planning Commission should see what the requirements in each State are, how many courts are required, what is the possible budget requirement and so on. Probably that is the reason why new courts have not come up so far.
When we talk about infrastructure, I have even suggested to the National Informatics Centre that we should have a separate television channel for the judiciary so that court matters can be highlighted and our training programmes improved. We may not have a 24-hours channel but we can have a channel telecasting the proceedings for a few hours. I have asked the Prime Minister’s IT advisor, Sam Pitroda, to explore the possibility. The TV channel should telecast important matters which are argued in the Supreme Court. For example, the Reliance case … there are about 3 million shareholders who would be anxious to know what is happening.
Brazil has a separate television channel for the judiciary. In the United Kingdom too, the new Supreme Court has the facility to telecast the proceedings. Even in Canada, such a facility is available. At least some cameras are placed outside the courtroom to record what is happening in the court. This will make the judges more responsible … they will be more conscientious. People can criticise judgments which are patently wrong.
In some cases like the Narco analysis issue, judgments have been reserved for almost two years.
Judges don’t get time. Everyday, 40 to 50 cases are to be read. Before March, I will finish all the cases and judgments will be delivered.
Why is the setting up of regional Supreme Court Benches being opposed?
Most people associated with the Supreme Court feel that once the Court sits elsewhere, the identity of the institution will be lost. The other suggestion is we can have a third appellate court to deal exclusively with constitutional matters, inter-State water disputes and federal disputes. That, we have to think of seriously.
A crucial issue in 2009 was the Justice Dinakaran issue. There is a perception in the Bar that you have a soft corner for Justice Dinakaran and that the Collegium could have been more transparent in the procedure adopted.
We have not violated a single procedure in the matter of Justice Dinakaran. When the matter came up — that he had trespassed into some land — I said I didn’t have any machinery to find out whether it was correct. I thought the revenue authorities would give some information. It was not my decision, it was the collegium’s decision. All decisions are taken by the collegium. We got a report, we decided to get a response from Dinakaran. Then we got the response. He denied that he had trespassed into even an inch of land. Then what is to be done? We don’t have a machinery to enquire into land measurement. I never wanted to make use of the judicial machinery, District Judge or Registrar, for any enquiry. So I requested the government to conduct whatever enquiry it wanted to and convey the findings to me. The government ultimately sent the file. By that time, the impeachment proceedings started. I don’t know what the Survey of India report is. Now we are not concerned with the report at all. We have asked the government not to process the name for the time being. That is the end of it. It is for Justice Dinakaran to defend himself before the committee. We have not done any favour to him. I can only say not a single representation, objection or complaint was received regarding his integrity or honesty when he was a judge of the Madras High Court or the Karnataka High Court. The collegium with five senior-most judges took into consideration all these factors. We cannot simply withdraw a name. That is not a fair or judicious way of doing things.
In the second issue relating to the recommendation on elevating the Allahabad High Court Chief Justice C.K. Prasad also, President Pratibha Patil has put a note on the file. The collegium will deal with it. We are yet to take a decision.
Were you taken into confidence on the much talked about Judicial Accountability Bill? There is a lot of criticism on the collegium system of appointments.
We don’t know what the provisions are. I have seen the draft Bill, but in what form it will come I have no idea. It may go to the Select Committee of Parliament.
Do you welcome the move to set up a National Judicial Council for the appointment of judges?
It should be dealt with separately. In many countries like South Africa and other Commonwealth countries there is the Appointment Council. If the government feels it wants an NJC, it should go about it properly.
As long as the Supreme Court judgment is there, we have to go by it. Those who criticise must understand that. We have only inherited the judgment. How can we change it? We are bound by that judgment. We take consultations, take written opinions from judges. Somebody who strongly feels that it is to be reviewed should take appropriate steps.
It is nearly three-and-a-half years since the Supreme Court had a woman judge. Even after the strength has increased from 26 to 31, there is no woman judge.
It took nearly 45 years for the Supreme Court to have the first woman judge. It is not in my hands alone. I hope my colleagues will consider some of the names.
Do you justify the clean chit given to Justice Nirmal Yadav in the cash at door scam?
We did not give any clean chit. It was the former Attorney-General who said no case was made out. The CBI did not seek any sanction for prosecution in the case. It closed the case. So where is the question of sanction?
What it sought sanction was for 9000 sq m of land purchased by 17 persons in Himachal Pradesh, including Justice Nirmal Yadav. A person can purchase 500 sq m of land. Going by that, no offence is made out. I have not given any sanction for conducting an enquiry. If 17 persons purchase lands, no offence is made out. How can I allow a sitting judge of the High Court to stand before a magistrate in a criminal case?
(“I hope I have done reasonably well in the matter of appointments, and in other areas. But I can’t say I am fully satisfied,” Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan says…)