Subordinate courts need overhaul

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THERE is an urgent need to rejuvenate the subordinate courts in Punjab and Haryana by upgrading their infrastructure and equipping them with tools of information and communication technology .

Though computers have been installed in the courts and laptops provided to judicial officers, this has not made them “fully computerised” courts. Consequently, they are way behind the newly evolved model of ‘E-Court’ like the one inaugurated in New Delhi early this year.

Barring Chandigarh, no district court in Punjab and Haryana has got its own website. The website enables the litigants and advocates, especially those residing far away, to get information of the cause list of to-be-listed cases as well as final orders or judgments. Though the Punjab and Haryana High Court website has such facility, the daily orders passed by the Judges in various cases are not uploaded as in the Supreme Court of India. This practice can be replicated even in lower courts even if it entails amendment in the relevant rules and orders.

Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Justice Mukul Mudgal would do well to ensure a time-bound roadmap for refurbishing the image of subordinate courts. As he has spent a large chunk of his legal and judicial career in the Delhi High Court, he should endeavour to replicate the same model in Punjab and Haryana.

The foremost requirement for the smooth functioning of any court is an independent and spacious judicial complex with easy accessibility for litigants. Under the Bhupinder Singh Hooda dispensation in Haryana, almost all district courts have got new judicial complexes. Courts in all sub-divisions, too, deserve the same attention.

Next is state-of-the-art and foolproof security in courts’ premises as many unfortunate incidents have happened in recent times. Miscreants also attack undertrials and witnesses. Judicial complexes ought to be converted into high security zones with adequate deployment of security personnel in uniform and plainclothes.

As for the dearth of judges, there has been no system of recruitment of judicial officers in both states every year. This has resulted in too many vacancies. The sanctioned strength of subordinate judges in the two states is just 400. Till March 2010, the shortfall of judges in Haryana and Punjab is 123 and 116 respectively. Though a recruitment drive for civil judges is underway, it is not clear to what extent it would address the shortfall.

Regarding the case pendency, the figure works out to be 5.61 lakh for Haryana and 5.74 lakh for Punjab. Considering the same, more posts of subordinate judges need to be created. Even the NCT of Delhi has in recent years increased the same strength to more than 600. There should be a periodic recruitment of judges preferably by the High Court. The process of judges’ selection by the respective Public Service Commissions has failed miserably as the state governments delay the nod to such recruitment when these commissions comprise members appointed by the previous regimes. The PCS Judicial Branch Rules (also applicable to Haryana) need to be suitably amended to delegate the whole process of recruitment to the High Court. Equally important is the need to reframe the subordinate courts’ working methodology along with suitable impart of training to court officials and supporting staff in conformity with the contemporary needs and requirements.

The prevalent colonial style of functioning of lower courts needs to be substituted by a citizen- and litigant-friendly manual to check corruption by the court staff and save precious money and time of people. It’s time for e-payment of court fee, issuance of summons and notices by email and delivery of certified copies of judgments via the digital mode. We have a miniscule number of family courts. Why not set up at least one in every district for appropriate adjudication of marital and family-related disputes with the aid and advice of psychiatrists and counselors?

In April, a Gram Nyayalya was inaugurated with much fanfare in Shahbad (Haryana) followed by another at Sirsa. However, under the Gram Nyayalayas’ Act, 2008, every state is duty-bound to establish at least one village court in every block. When the Centre is to meet the non-recurring expenditure, why is the state reluctant? As the Supreme Court has initiated periodic monitoring of the progress of providing adequate infrastructure in subordinate courts by different states, Punjab and Haryana governments should kick-start the overdue overhaul of the subordinate judiciary.

The writer is Advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court


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