Justice Ranjan Gogoi delivers the third Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture — The Vision of Justice

PUBLISHED IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS

Full text of Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s speech at RNG Memorial Lecture:

I express my most heartfelt gratitude to The Express Group for extending this opportunity to me to deliver the lecture which has been organised in the memory of a man who was an institution in his own right: Ramnath Goenka ji.

While unlike some of you present here, I had not had the occasion to ever meet him, but, fortunately I have not been untouched by his proud legacy. Which gleams through that what he had founded as an answer to Gandhi ji’s call to start a swadeshi newspaper. Living in the realm of the Raj, it needed an iron-will and iron man and we found it in a young Ramnath ji. His legacy also gleams through the rich jurisprudence on the Freedom of the Press that he was instrumental in moulding, and which, by virtue of my Office, I work every day. It needed a committed and a cause-driven litigant – a rarity which it is nowadays – and we found it, yet again, in Ramnath ji. During the dark days of the Emergency, he stood as an unwavering gatekeeper of those fundamental liberties that we hold so dear today and that is his legacy too.

PART 1:

Today, after all these years, some remember him as the ‘Warrior of the Fourth Estate’ 1 , some remember him as a “dogged, unyielding adversary” 2 , some remember him as an “iconoclast”, some as a “magnificent rebel”. He was, at times unapologetic, at times uninhibited, at times even contradictory, but forever fierce, forever feisty, and forever fearless. His entire life trajectory from Darbhanga to Madras to Bombay; from the Constituent Assembly to the Newsroom to the Courtrooms, is a test case of its own kind that we, perhaps, need to use more often in our lives, in our institutions. Not too long back, I had read an interesting news article talking about the surprising surge – which is not so surprising, all things considered – in the sale of George Orwell’s 1984 in the United States. That piqued my interest in revisiting the classic. And, for some reason, I want to recollect a thought from it today. “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the Congress party along with former finance minister P Chidambaram at the third Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture in New Delhi. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

If I had to put it very simply, for me, this is what Ramnath ji stood for. The freedom to say that two plus two make four. And, that is how I remember him as. Someone who could call Spade a Spade. Someone who could speak truth to power. Even if it came at a cost. To be ready to break, but not bend could be called obstinacy by some, and determination by others. Is it a matter of perspective? I do not know. And, I cannot say for others but as far as I am concerned, I only feel that we need to ask ourselves some questions: Where is the Goenka in us; his ideals; his values? Is that extraordinary phenomena losing his relevance today, after all these years? Why I have chosen the topic for this discourse merits a context too. And, this is the context. These are some sore questions, but too significant to get lost in the everydayness. And, when it is so, what other better tribute can there be to a visionary who embodied in so many ways the spirit of our Constitution, than to spend a thought. To spend a thought over how far we have come to achieve the vision that he had seen as someone who helped free the country in one era, and helped it become a meaningful Democracy in another.

PART 2:

I will use a few minutes to put across my proposition as to what I intend to say when I talk about the “Vision of Justice”. I will borrow from the Chief Editor Shri. Raj Kamal Jha himself, because it offers a very fine perspective. Very powerfully and thoughtfully and rightly, he said of Ramnath ji in one his letters to me, that, “fierce independence” and “enduring sense of inquiry without fear or favour” were the two values that Ramnath ji believed formed the “bedrock of Justice”. It is absolutely incontestable that they do and, for convenience, let me call them the Bedrock Principles. But, if I were to look at it anatomically, while these do indeed form the bedrock of Justice, what is the Form/Body of the ideal called Justice which rests on this bedrock? The Bedrock Principles have been the talk of the town lately considering how the entire thinktank is so keenly focused on it. And I am not suggesting that it ought not to be. It ought to be done and it is being done. I cannot recall the last time, the Judicial wing of the State made so much news. On a lighter note, let us recall, Hamilton (the American Founding Father) who had suggested that the Judiciary was the least dangerous branch of the State’s three branches – and I will refer to him again during the course of my address – but, were he to be here today, I wonder if he would have felt the same way. More so, in the light of the IE Top 100 Most Powerful Indians which included several names from the judiciary. But, the fact of the matter is that if we have to take stock of how we have fared – and about seven decades later since we ventured into becoming a Constitutional Order, this appears to be an opportune time to do so – we might as well do it comprehensively. And, by comprehensively what I mean is that we must evaluate both the Bedrock Principles and the Form Principles because the Vision of Justice, the way I understand it, is a compound of both. Clearly, they are not unconnected. And over the course of next about half an hour, I will attempt to touch upon both. I will begin with the Form Principles, and bear with me, in order to drive home my point, I may have to get somewhat academic.

From (L-R): Hrishikesh Roy, Chief Justice, Kerala High Court, Deepak Gupta, Judge, Supreme Court, N V Ramanna, Judge, Supreme Court, Madan B Lokur, Judge, Supreme Court at the third Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha) 

You will agree, that in the backdrop of a bleeding mega partition, deeply entrenched inequities, perpetuating injustices, our Constitution ushered us into believing in a grand promise of transformation on a scale that was beyond reformatory. It was, in all its full glory, a revolution in all aspects of life – social, economic, political. In a way, it said, let bygones be and the new society that we would be, would be egalitarian. While preserving our pluralistic character, we would be democratic and united too. The State would be religion-neutral, the citizens equal and together. Coming to think of it, it was just as pretentious as it was unpretentious an idea. But be that as it may, public institutions (one of them being the Judiciary) were inherited, they were tweaked where need was felt, to give life to this prodigious architecture of Justice. And, here, I would like to clarify that by justice, I am not implying only the juridical connotation of the word which is the administration of justice by the courts of law – although it is just as imperative – but justice is something that is an overarching principle, an underlying fundamental, the spirit, an order so to say. Which is why I say “prodigious”.

PART 3:

Because, it was a confluence of very many philosophies – [1] the Aristotelian, for instance, which suggests that the very essence of the State is justice which according to the philosopher was a social virtue; good of others; equality and fairness. When we peruse the Preamble to the Constitution- our vision document – is it not that this ideology is enshrined in the words “Equality of status and opportunity”? [2] Or, the Utilitarian philosophy of John Stuart Mill whose view was that justice was the greatest good to the greatest numbers. In the Preamble, is this not enshrined in the principles of “Socialism”, and “Equality” yet again? [3] Or, the relatively more modern one: the Rawlsian perspective which is that justice as fairness is the most egalitarian and also the most plausible concept of liberalism. In the Preamble, is this not reflected in the words “Liberty of thought, expression, belief”. So, the Preamble, if you deconstruct it precept-wise, is the very embodiment of these ideas. Justice is not something that is a standalone precept but an amalgam of other ideals like “socialism”; “democracy”; “liberty”; “equality”; “fraternity”, to name a few. They are not isolated silos because their undying endeavour is to establish one discipline – of overall justice, of an inclusive society. And, this is exactly what I meant by the Form Principles of Justice as an ideal. As a composite unit called Justice, these had been intended to be achieved by the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.

Justice is not something that is a standalone precept but an amalgam of other ideals like “socialism”; “democracy”; “liberty”; “equality”; “fraternity”, to name a few — Justice Gogoi in his address. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Now, it will make for an incredibly interesting and if I may add overwhelmingly contentious tale to tell as to how the Executive and the Legislature have performed on this front. But the scope of my discourse will be limited to the judiciary’s endeavour in this regard. A few months back, I had the occasion to deliver the Justice P.D. Desai Memorial Lecture, at Ahmedabad. And, there I had proposed that attaining Constitutional Idealism was not like chasing a rainbow and the Supreme Court, through its pronouncements, had been reflecting it. It would not be a display of the pessimism of the intellect today, if I were to say that while, indeed, attaining Constitutional Idealism (= Vision of Justice) is not like chasing a rainbow, but, it is so only in the courtrooms. Perhaps, because fields are where the rainbows are (“fields” being the operative word). The point being that the way nation is built and the way this grand Vision of Justice is attained in the confines of the courts through judicial pronouncements and the way they are built on the ground are two very disparate realities. Agreed, the aspirational aspect of the Constitution and the operational aspect of the Constitution will always be two different notions. The aspirational aspect is high idealism of a kind that is almost moralistic and preachy. The operational aspect has to do with the very strange realities of the ground, almost defeating. But then even if we may be slow to move to bridge the gap between the two, which itself is not an acceptable compromise either, but we must, at the least, not become retrograde.

Justice Ranjan Gogoi: The judgments beyond their bare letter, say that, societal morality is fickle and not that, but constitutional morality that ought to dictate terms. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Take for example the 2015’s ruling in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India 3 (2015). It is a celebrated judgment, where the Supreme Court held that the public’s right to know was directly affected by Section 66A. Interestingly, while doing so, the Court was certainly inspired by, amongst other rulings, Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras 4 (1950); Brij Bhushan v. State of Delhi 5 (1950); Bennett Coleman & Co. v. Union of India 6 (1973). If you would recall, these were perhaps some of the earliest pronouncements protecting an Independent Indian’s Speech and Expression and were delivered in the light of the rights of the Press, which verdicts themselves had endorsed that a democracy was a marketplace of ideas where the people had a right to know; that prior restraints were anathematic to a democracy and that the freedom of speech and of the press is the Ark of the Covenant of Democracy. Shreya Singhal took this legacy ahead as it improved upon the jurisprudence on the independence of the Press to attain and promote the Constitutional precept of plurality of thought, diversity of opinion and the ethos of democracy in the tech-age and in the context of online speech. The Vision of Justice was indeed attained in the courtroom. Not once, but multiple times. But has it translated into reality? Has the success of these sterling verdicts reached the ground? I will let the facts speak for themselves. On the ground, it is a descent into chaos. And it is worrisome on all counts when you sue the messenger or when you shoot the messenger, or when the messenger itself declines to deliver the message because of the fear psychosis. On the 19 th June, The Indian Express had published a very insightful article (selected from The Economist) titled as ‘How Democracy Dies”.

From (L-R): Acting Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Justice Gita Mittal, Former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, CPI leader D Raja and jurist Soli Sorabjee at the third Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

It said, at one place, that, “…independent judges and noisy journalists are democracy’s first line of defence…Reports of the death of democracy are greatly exaggerated. But, the least bad system of government ever devised is in trouble. It needs defenders.” I agree but will only suggest a slight modification in today’s context – not only independent judges and noisy journalists, but even independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges. While Shreya Singhal was significant in its own right, NALSA v. Union of India 7 breathed new life into the Equality principle. The Court understood that our Founding Fathers’ vision about fundamental right against sex discrimination was to prevent differential treatment as a result of one’s not conforming to generalizations. The judgment made a momentous foray into the fountain-head of dynamism. And, I will get back to it but before I do that, I must touch upon a very fascinating judgment of 1986 vintage called Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala 8 . This was a case where three Jehovah’s Witnesses had refused to sing the National Anthem (as their tenets dictated so) when it was being sung in their school. They did stand up though. Nevertheless, they were expelled from the school. When the case found its way to the Supreme Court, while holding that the expulsion would be in violation of their Fundamental Right to ‘freedom of conscience’, the Court observed that “the real test of a true democracy is the ability of even an insignificant minority to find its identity under the country’s Constitution.”

Former Chief Justice of India Rajendra Mal Lodha (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

The court also felt the need to add a thought. And, I feel compelled to quote it. It is the penultimate line of the verdict and it says – “our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our Constitution practices tolerance; let us not dilute it.” Recently. in Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Nala Sangam v. Government of Tamil Nadu 9 , the Court held that even in the matters of religious beliefs, constitutional legitimacy cannot be foregone and following Justice B.K. Mukherjea in Shirur Mutt case (of 1954), went on to hold that it is not the State or the religious Indian but the Constitutional Court which decides on what constitutes essential practices of any particular religion.

Some of you could be wondering about how these judgments are even related. They are not. But, they are, at the same time. Dissimilarity is that the first one originates in a very intimate, private sphere of life and the other two originate in what everybody seems to want to have a say in – the matters of faith. But, it is the similarity that should be the take away. The judgments beyond their bare letter, say that, societal morality is fickle and not that, but constitutional morality that ought to dictate terms. As an Israeli judge Aharon Barak points out, it is not the transient spirits of time but the fundamental values that should be the guiding voice 10.

In a way, it said, let bygones be and the new society that we would be, would be egalitarian. While preserving our pluralistic character, we would be democratic and united too. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

In his last address to the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Ambedkar had said that we must not only be a political democracy but a social democracy as the former cannot last unless lies at the base of it the former. And, social democracy, he defined, as a way of life which recognises liberty, equality, fraternity as one principle. I wouldn’t want to wade into knowing if we are a successful political democracy, but, I do, earnestly believe, that we are a social democracy, in all aspects. But again, largely jurisprudentially. And the disparity is there because the two Indias – both just as perceptible – are at conflict. There is an India that believes that it is the New Order and there is an India that lives below a ridiculously drawn Poverty Line on daily wages in night shelters with no access to education or healthcare, let alone access to the Courts of Law. The ambivalence is intriguing. And, this is exactly what I call as getting lost in translation. One India in the aforementioned perspective is the Vision and to know how far we have succeeded in attaining this Vision of Justice is really a matter of perception. But nevertheless, there is a graphic disparity right there and removing this disparity will be the mission for the Indian Judiciary in the times to come. And if I may add, for that to happen, it is going to require a “constitutional moment” of its own kind in the life of this institution, which I believe has been long overdue.

“I will only say that if it wishes to preserve its moral and institutional leverage, it must remain uncontaminated,” says Justice Gogoi. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

The Constitutional history with reference to this institution as a whole (and, especially the Supreme Court) would show that its own role has constantly evolved in the light of the socio-political context. If 1970-1980 was the decade where it expounded the Basic Structure Doctrine, in 1980s, it constantly expanded the scope of Article 21 and by 1990s, it became somewhat of a “Good Governance Court” by innovatively interpreting Constitutional provisions to address the inadequacies consequent upon executive and legislative inactivity. In the first fifty years since our independence, the court has created a very sound jurisprudence which we continue to reap from. It is the inertia really that has kept us going till now. But the way things stand today, court processes are a trial even before the trial has begun. While I cannot say if it is a collective failure on our part but for a nation governed by the rule of law, is it not a matter of concern that to this extent at least, we are defying the idea of inclusiveness? Not a reform but a revolution is what it needs, to be able to meet the challenges on the ground and to keep this institution serviceable for a common man and relevant for the nation. For the effectiveness of the judgments to show, the justice dispensation system has to be made more result oriented i.e. to say, more focused on enforcement. I understand what Mr. Arun Shourie 11 suggests when he wonders if the judiciary is not being an “accessory to the resulting deterioration”, when it in its hopefulness and optimism, doesn’t go after its mandate till its implementation. I find it difficult to agree wholeheartedly. But I will certainly say that the judiciary must certainly be more pro-active, more on the front foot. This is what I would call as redefining its role as an institution in the matters of enforcement and efficacy of the spirit of its diktats, of course, subject to constitutional morality (= separation of powers) again. I will even go ahead to say that the institution, at all levels, needs to become more dynamic in the matters of interpretation of laws. And, this is what I mean to say by a constitutional moment of its own kind. However, it is going to be a tall order both at the micro level and the macro level because both come with their unique sets of challenges.

Executive Director of The Express Group Anant Goenka (left) presents a sketch to Justice Ranjan Gogoi at the third RNG Lecture in New Delhi on Thursday. (Express Photo by Neeraj Priyadarshi)

By micro level, what I mean is administration of justice on day-to-day basis. Here, the so-called “inefficiency” and “slow processes” have been historical challenges. I will put it very simply. The judiciary today is not a poor workman who blames his tools, but it is a workman with no tools. I am not going to saddle you with the figures that we keep consuming every day on pendency, arrears and judges’ strength but in the light of what a French author had once said, “Everything has been said already, but as no one listens, we must begin again.” 12 , I will only ask and request those at the helm to finally listen so that we must not have to begin again. In addition to that, I also feel that there is a pressing need to explore the endless limits of legal services mechanism. Legal awareness and legal empowerment of the marginalised in this vastly unequal society of ours, have to be a made an observable reality. Let me give you one instance which is glaring insofar as personal liberty is concerned. 67% of the prison population are undertrials, mostly belonging to the underprivileged classes and 47% of them are between the age of 18-30 years. Compare this with the U.K. where it is about 7% and the U.S. which is acknowledged to have a high rate of incarceration where the percentage is 22.7%. The period of about one year that a majority of the undertrials have been in custody would hardly redeem the situation. Will it be wrong to suggest that a fair share of our demographic dividend is being unjustifiably lodged in the jails and mostly for petty or less serious offences?

The judiciary, with whatever little it has had at its hand, has been a proud guardian of the great Constitutional vision. (Express Photo by Neeraj Priyadarshi)

At the macro level, the judiciary as an institution is being seen as a course corrector, a leveller, a democratiser of sorts. And, since it is too well known that this country is on the cusp of an evolution, naturally it will have implications for this institution just as much. I would like you to recall that I had mentioned about Hamilton in the beginning of the discourse. While contemplating the U.S. Constitution 13 , he had said that the judiciary is the weakest of three branches because it neither has force of the Executive nor the will of the Legislature, but only judgment. This, and which I agree with absolutely, he said, was the “simple view of the matter”. The complex view is this. And which he was wise enough to warn about over two centuries ago. He had said that while the civil liberties will have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, they will have everything to fear from the union of the judiciary with either of the other two branches.

Punjab and Haryana High Court Judge Justice Surya Kant (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

I would like to believe, this is why, Ramnath ji had also said that “fierce independence” is indeed the bedrock of justice. But I would like to add that “independence” must always be responsible with due regard to established Constitutional values. This institution is the last bastion of hope and the one that the citizenry believes firmly, will give justice to them, come what may. And it has. The judiciary, with whatever little it has had at its hand, has been a proud guardian of the great Constitutional vision. It fills me with immense pride to see that as an institution, the judiciary has been endowed with great societal trust. This very fact gives it its credibility and this very credibility gives it its legitimacy. It is a very enviable spot for an institution. I will only say that if it wishes to preserve its moral and institutional leverage, it must remain uncontaminated. And, independent. And, fierce. And, at all times. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So is an institution. And if introspection is where we have to begin, we might as well begin there. Perhaps, we can hope and endeavour that in the future, it is not our finality, but really our infallibility that should define us. It is my imagination of an ideal world and I am aware of what Carl Jung had said of it. He had had said that, “Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.” I don’t know how true his view holds on other counts, but as far as idealism is concerned, I would say, it should be pursued like an axiom. Thank you very much.

Jai Hind!

India is Lacking in the Amount of Sexual and Violent Crime Cases that Utilize DNA to Link the Accused to the Crime Scene

CA more aggressive DNA approach at crime scene, in the lab and in the court, will increase conviction rates and make India safer for women

New Delhi, Delhi, India

Crime in India is seen to be on an upsurge, especially rape and sexual assault cases where the conviction rate has fallen from 49% to as low as 29% in the last 3 years (between 2012 and 2015) in Delhi alone, and over 1,37,458 rape cases still stand pending for trial across India[1]. The lack of scientific methods in investigations is hampering justice delivery and the need for DNA casework expansion in India is now increasingly critical and urgent to build conviction in such cases.

“India is simply not collecting enough DNA at violent and sexual crime scenes,” said Tim Schellberg, President, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs (GTH-GA), a legal and policy expert of forensic DNA. “DNA is the world’s greatest crime fighting tool. Consequently, DNA should be aggressively collected, tested and compared to the accused. DNA testing is happening in India, but not nearly enough,” added Schellberg.

GTH-GA estimates that the United Kingdom completes DNA testing on over 60,000 crime scenes annually. India is over 13 times larger in population that the United Kingdom, yet GTH-GA estimates that India’s crime labs collectively complete DNA testing on less than 7,500 cases annually. This is a very low number.

Furthermore, when DNA is collected, it often goes into large backlogs due to India’s lack of DNA testing infrastructure. The pendency of the backlogs for sample testing in the FSL at Rohini is 5661 and for the one at Chanakyapuri are 458[2. GTH estimates that most of the backlog cases mentioned is likely DNA.

As per the statistics available on the website of Directorate of Forensic Science, Himachal Pradesh[3], the pendency of DNA cases has gone up. In January 2017, the pendency of cases was 605 and in June 2017 was 674, whereas, the average collection of DNA cases is around 30 per month and average disposal of 15 cases a month. This shows almost 50 per cent increase in pendency at FSL per month.

As per the NCRB data, more than 34,651 rapes were registered in 2015. On the contrary, the annual report of the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD)[4] available for the latest year 2015-16 shows that they have received 99 DNA cases specifically for rape from different states.
B
Senior Advocate, Delhi High Court, Vivek Sood agrees that not enough DNA is being utilized in rape cases. “In Delhi, the numbers of rape cases have tripled over the last five years, registering an increase of 277% from 572 in 2011 to 2,155 in 2016. In these cases, I rarely see DNA evidence presented by the prosecutors during trial. This is because DNA is not properly collected at crime scenes on a routine basis, and when it is collected, it is stuck in long backlogs in our underfunded crime laboratories. As a result, there is an over reliance on verbal statements provided by witness/witnesses in the court that can result in wrongly convicting the innocent. We must have more DNA testing to ensure a swift and just result for both the victims and the accused.”

Collection, transportation and storage of DNA forensic evidence are the key factors in rape investigations, which unless well-preserved and transported to FSL result in weak prosecutions and low conviction rate. India currently has approximately 30 FSLs with varied capacity to examine DNA Samples. To strengthen the criminal justice system, it is therefore critical to invest in the much required infrastructure and upgrading the FSLs for DNA – Collect, Test and Compare.

The availability of DNA when at trial to link the accused to the crime is seen throughout the world as the best way to increase charging and conviction of criminal offenders. One study from Denver, Colorado (United States) shows that when DNA is available the prosecutions, ‘charging rate’ was 8 times higher than cases that did not have DNA casework that matched a known suspect. While this data shows prosecution ‘charging’ and not conviction, the point is made showing how the system likes it when DNA is present. A charge rate that is 8 times higher when DNA is present is a big number and obviously will lead to a higher conviction!

EIndia can be a far safer place for women if DNA was collected and tested at all violent and sex crime scenes where the criminal offender leaves DNA. This is a must for all law enforcement authorities, and courts and prosecutors to ensure that the DNA be tested quickly and be used in courts to expedite the judicial process.

 GTH-GA works globally on DNA

Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs is globally recognised public affairs consultancy firm that has expertise with forensic DNA database policy, legislative, and law. For nearly twenty years, consultants at GTH-GA have consulted in over 50 countries and states on legislation and policies to establish or expand criminal offender DNA databases. GTH-GA collaborates closely with governmental officials, crime labs, police and the DNA industry. GTH-GA operates the DNAResource.com website that has been used as the world’s primary source for DNA database policy and legislative information since 2000.

Supreme Court sets up social justice bench

THE SC TABLEU IN 2004 REPUBLIC DAY
JUSTICE TO THE PEOPLE

PUBLISHED IN THE MINT

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday set up a social justice bench to deliver speedy access to constitutional rights, particularly those relating to women and children. The bench will deal exclusively with social matters, including the right to food and medical assistance. The move is designed to ensure that these cases can move quickly through the apex court and, notably, to encourage deeper deliberation on the rights and responsibilities of the state. The Supreme Court said “several cases relating to the domain of ‘social justice’ have been pending for several years” in the apex court, prompting Chief Justice H.L. Dattu to order “that these cases shall be given a specialized approach for their early disposal so that the masses will realise the fruits of the rights provided to them by the constitutional text”.

The two-judge bench comprising Madan B. Lokur and U.U. Lalit will begin sitting from 12 December. The range of issues identified includes access to food for drought-hit people and prevention of premature deaths caused by lack of nutrition. The right to health figures on the agenda with the mandate to make access to medical care a reality irrespective of people’s financial capacity. The bench will also determine availability of night shelters for the homeless and the destitute. “This is an idea that should have been long implemented. The job of judiciary is not just to deliver justice but also to make people respect and fear the law. Right now, people think they can do anything and get away with it,” said Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research, a non-governmental organization. “I know of two dowry cases which are pending in the Supreme Court for 22 years.

If this body is formed, hopefully justice wouldn’t be delayed any more,” she added.

While the apex court has routinely set up dedicated benches, these have primarily dealt with economic issues. The “forest bench”, later renamed the “green bench”, has been dealing with environmental cases for nearly two decades. Similarly, the lower judiciary has courts dedicated to crimes against children and offences like sexual assault. Having a dedicated bench for matters of constitutional rights and societal concerns will reduce the pendency of cases arising from such matters. The new bench will take up not only pending matters but also new ones in order to “secure social justice, one of the ideals of the Indian Constitution”, the court said. The release also indicated that secure living conditions for women—in the absence of which many find themselves in sex work—are a part of constitutional goals which must be achieved.

Welcoming the move, Supreme Court lawyer and anti-trafficking activist Ravi Kant said, “I think this move will bring more focus on these issues. Different PILs related to the same matter are pending before different benches. This body will bring in more clarity. It will also expedite the delivery of justice.”

However, some experts said that with only a brief announcement made so far, details about implementation, the number of cases to be transferred to the bench and other such matters were unclear. “Definitional questions as to what qualifies as social justice will arise. It might also encourage forum shopping, as each litigant wants to be heard by a sympathetic bench. The other problem is that the concept of rule of law promises equal treatment of all cases,” Rahul Singh, assistant professor at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. “Constituting a special bench for a class of cases is antithetical to this concept.” “It’s important that the apex court is talking about these issues. But this shouldn’t reduce to mere tokenism. We have so many mahila (women’s) courts in the country. Crime against women has become a disease in this country,” lawyer Rebecca John said. “If the bench is a response to recognizing that cases related to women and children are serious, then I welcome the move.”

Read more at: http://www.livemint.com/Politics/vUH4B7kKPH4WcSFbnfhRKP/SC-sets-up-social-justice-bench-to-deal-with-social-issues.html?utm_source=copy

Serving the justice needs of the poor

THE SC TABLEU IN 2004 REPUBLIC DAYBY N R MADHAVA MENON – PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

To be able to deliver appropriate legal services to the rural and tribal communities, we need an alternative delivery system with a different model of legal service providers

Delivery of legal services to the rich and the corporate class is organised not through individual lawyers but through a series of networked law firms. These firms employ hundreds of lawyers and domain experts all over the country to provide highly specialised single-window services to their clients, of course at prices determined by the market. The middle class, which cannot afford their services, go to individual lawyers or publicly-funded legal aid services organised under the Legal Services Authorities Act. In this scheme of things, it is the poor and marginalised rural and tribal communities who are left out. They suffer injustice or seek justice through informal systems, including the so-called “khap panchayats.” It is this sort of situation prevailing in the countryside that provides a fertile ground for the exploitation of the poor and for the growth of extremist forces, undermining the rule of law and constitutional governance.

Myth of legal aid

The 1973 Expert Committee on Legal Aid, titled “Processual Justice to the People,” which eventually led to the enactment of the Legal Services Authorities Act, discussed the futility of the court-centric litigative aid to the poor and marginalised sections, and recommended a series of alternative strategies. Obviously, the emphasis was on legal empowerment and mobilisation, preventive and strategic legal services intended to avoid victimisation, and the development of a public sector in the legal profession capable of responding to the problems of the rural and tribal communities. Unfortunately, when the legal aid law was enacted, the focus again was on assigning a lawyer to the needy client who took the task in a traditional style of protracted litigation with its attendant costs, uncertainty and delay — much to the dismay of the poor. Moreover, the system was premised on three assumptions which were contrary to ground realities — that the victim was aware of her rights and knew how to approach courts; that legal aid offices were available in far-flung villages and tribal settlements; and that the lawyer assigned had the right values, attitudes and competence to do a professional job appropriate to the justice needs of the rural/tribal population. These assumptions did not hold good in a majority of villages and, as such, conventional legal aid became irrelevant to the rural population. Language and communication compounded the situation, alienating the marginalised from a court-centric justice system. One alternative the Legal Services Authorities Act provided was the “Lok Adalat”, which lawyers disliked. The judges, honourable exceptions apart, turned it into an exercise to reduce arrears in courts through what some people call “forced settlements or hurried justice.”

Nonetheless, the Lok Adalat did serve the cause of justice for those who could reach the court despite all the odds. For others, legal aid had very little to offer. The Supreme Court did help them in a big way in the 1980s and the 1990s through the instrument of public interest litigation (PIL), which later lost its importance because of wide abuse by the urban elite and vested interests. Although it is difficult to generalise the legal needs of the rural poor because of the diversity of population, the need for food, shelter, education, health and work are admittedly the priority. The Constitution has left it to the legislature and the executive to progressively realise these needs through laws, schemes and special measures.

At the same time, the Constitution promises to all its citizens equality of status and opportunity, as well as equal protection of the law. Finding that large sections of the poor are unable to fulfil their basic needs even after decades of democratic governance, the Supreme Court sought to interpret socio-economic rights (Directive Principles) as civil and political rights (Fundamental Rights), compelling the state to come forward with laws empowering the poor with rights enforceable under the law. The Right to Education Act, the Food Security Act, and the Employment Guarantee Act were promising initiatives in this direction. However, the poor continue to be at the receiving end of an indifferent administration because of the difficulties in accessing justice through conventional legal aid.

We, therefore, need an alternative delivery system with a different model of legal service providers in rural and tribal areas. How can one fix the land rights of the poor when they have neither ‘pattas’ nor other valid documents? How do water rights and forest rights get protected from exploitation? What happens to government-sponsored schemes for food, sanitation, health and employment, aimed at alleviating the misery of the poorest of the poor? How to ensure that children are in school and are not abused and exploited? What can be done to prevent atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in villages, and their forcible displacement? Where do they get credit for their livelihood activities and how are we to prevent victimisation in the process? Do they have fair market access for their produce? What happens to the bio-diversity of rural and tribal areas? How best to preserve and protect traditional knowledge and other intellectual property rights of the rural poor?

What about the labour rights of the unorganised rural poor? How are the rights of farmers to be protected against profit-hungry multinationals’ monopoly on seed, fertilizer and pesticide business? Are the villagers being exploited by state agencies like police, forest officials, banks, revenue officials and mining lobbies with impunity because of the inaccessibility of the justice system? Why is it that the Gram Nyayalaya Act, supposed to extend quick and cheap justice to the rural poor, is neglected by lawyers and judges?

Need for an alternative

When these questions were raised in a professional development workshop recently at Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, the consensus was that we need an alternative model of legal service delivery to rural and tribal communities, for which a new pattern of legal education needs to be developed. The mainstream law schools are not clear in their mission. Legal educators blindly follow the Bar Council-prescribed court-centric curriculum, producing law graduates unfit to serve the justice needs of the tribal and rural communities. With such advocates, even a well-intentioned legal aid scheme cannot deliver justice to the marginalised sections.

The Bilaspur Workshop evolved a framework of an alternative LLB curriculum for the education and training of legal service providers, appropriate to rural and tribal needs. While the mandatory part of the BCI curriculum is accommodated, the alternative model identified over 40 subjects relevant to rural needs to be included in the optional component of the curriculum. However, the workshop felt that the new type of legal service providers proposed under the alternative model is not distinguished on the basis of knowledge of law only, but in terms of a different set of skills, attitudes and values relevant to the rural/tribal communities. It was proposed that the final year of the five-year LLB programme be devoted to experiential learning through social justice and legal aid activities in rural areas under the supervision of NGOs, self-government authorities, collectorates, and legal aid committees besides law school professors. The experiential learning is through clinical courses developed by law schools for appropriate credits.

Lawyers’ cooperatives

Students seeking to set up practice in rural areas will form themselves into what may be called lawyers’ cooperatives or rural law firms, and train in advocacy before public bodies, administrative authorities, Gram Nyayalayas and regulatory agencies, besides courts and tribunals. They will be assisted by trained para-legals from among school dropouts and social activists of the area. The fee for each legal service will be fixed and notified by firms and they will be affordable. These rural law firms will be organised professionally on the lines of urban law firms in terms of technology and quality of services. Cheap, prompt and reliable services will be the hallmark of rural law firms. The law school will give the successful candidates not only an LLB degree but also a diploma in rural legal practice, which will distinguish them from the rest.

It will be the endeavour of law schools adopting this curriculum to assist the graduates to set up their practice in rural and tribal areas, organisationally and financially. Towards this end, the law school will approach the large urban law firms to extend their help as part of their corporate social responsibility. Besides, State governments and the National Legal Services Authority will be asked to give them subsidy in locating their offices in villages and recognising them as public defenders for identified services. Some law schools in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and northeastern India have shown interest in adopting this model of legal education. The immediate problem, of course, is to find the right kind of teachers who can deliver under this alternative curriculum. To meet this challenge, there is a proposal to offer a one-year diploma in Law Teaching and Research to teachers of law schools in these States, with a view to augmenting the available resources.

To conclude, the Bilaspur Declaration offers the hope that Indian legal education will turn round and look at the constitutional mandate on responding to the unmet justice needs of the large body of rural and tribal communities in the near future. Professions are, after all, for the people and no profession can survive without their trust and support. The earlier this is recognised by the organised Bar and the government, the better it will be for the country and the professions themselves.

(Professor Madhava Menon is IBA Chair on Continuing Legal Education at National Law School of India, and a Member of the Advisory Council to the National Mission on Justice Delivery and Legal Reform, Government of India.)

Keywords: legal aidLegal Services Authorities ActGram Nyayalaya ActBilaspur DeclarationIndian legal education

The 90%

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS

The unpleasant truth: 90 per cent of Indians are fools

Someone asked me, “Justice Katju, you say you wish to keep away from controversies, but why is it that controversies keep chasing you?” I replied that while it is true that I wish to be uncontroversial, I have a great defect: I cannot remain silent when I see my country going downhill. Even if others are deaf and dumb, I am not. So I will speak out. As Faiz said: “Bol ki lab azad hain tere/ Bol zubaan ab tak teri hai.”

In our shastras it is written: “Satyam bruyat, priyam bruyat, na bruyat satyam apriyam.” It means, “Speak the truth, speak the pleasant, but do not speak the unpleasant truth.” I wish to rectify this. The country’s situation today requires that we say “Bruyat satyam apriyam”, i.e. “Speak the unpleasant truth”.

When I said that 90 per cent Indians are fools I spoke an unpleasant truth. The truth is that the minds of 90 per cent Indians are full of casteism, communalism, superstition. Consider the following:

First, when our people go to vote in elections, 90 per cent vote on the basis of caste or community, not the merits of the candidate. That is why Phoolan Devi, a known dacoit-cum-murderer, was elected to Parliament — because she belonged to a backward caste that had a large number of voters in that constituency. Vote banks are on the basis of caste and community, which are manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and others.

Second, 90 per cent Indians believe in astrology, which is pure superstition and humbug. Even a little common sense tells us that the movements of stars and planets have nothing to do with our lives. Yet, TV channels showing astrology have high TRP ratings.

Third, cricket has been turned into a religion by our corporatised media, and most people lap it up like opium. The real problems facing 80 per cent of the people are socio-economic — poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, price rise, lack of healthcare, education, housing etc. But the media sidelines or minimises these real issues, and gives the impression that the real issues are the lives of film stars, fashion, cricket, etc. When Rahul Dravid retired, the media depicted it as a great misfortune for the country, and when Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th century it was depicted as a great achievement for India. Day after day, the media kept harping on this, whereas the issues of a quarter of a million farmers’ suicides and 47 per cent Indian children being malnourished were sidelined.

Fourth, I had criticised the media hype around Dev Anand’s death at a time when 47 farmers in India were committing suicide on an average every day for the last 15 years. A section of the media attacked me for doing so, but I reiterate that I see no justification for the high publicity given by the media to this event for several days. In my opinion, Dev Anand’s films transported the minds of poor people to a world of make-believe, like a hill station where Dev Anand was romancing some girl. This gave relief for a couple of hours to the viewers from their lives of drudgery. Such films, to my mind, serve no social purpose, but act instead like a drug or alcohol to send the viewer temporarily from his miserable existence to a beautiful world of tinsel.

Finally, during the recent Anna Hazare agitation in Delhi, the media hyped the event as a solution to the problem of corruption. In reality it was, as Shakespeare said in Macbeth, “…a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing”. (In an earlier piece in this paper, ‘Recreating Frankenstein’s monster’, IE, March 31, I had said, “The Lokpal Bill will create a parallel bureaucracy, which will turn into Frankenstein’s monster.”) At that time, if anyone had raised any logical questions, he would have been denounced as a “gaddar” or “deshdrohi”. The people who collected at Jantar Mantar or the Ramlila grounds displayed a mob mentality that has been accurately described by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar.

After Caesar’s murder, Mark Antony stirred up the Roman mob, which went around seeking revenge on the conspirators. One of the conspirators was named Cinna. The mob caught hold of another man, also named Cinna, who protested that he was Cinna the poet and not Cinna the conspirator. Despite his protests, the mob said, “tear him for his bad verses”, and lynched him.

The Jan Lokpal Bill 2011 defines an act of corruption as punishable under Chapter IX of the Indian Penal Code or under the Prevention of Corruption Act vide Section 2(e). Section 6(a) of the bill says the Lokpal will exercise superintendence over investigation of acts of corruption, and section 6(c) empowers the Lokpal to punish acts of corruption after giving a hearing. Section 6(e) authorises the Lokpal to initiate prosecution, and section 6(f) authorises him to ensure proper prosecution. Section 6(i)(j) authorises him to receive complaints.

Section 2(c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act defines a public servant very widely. It includes not only government servants but also a host of other categories, such as employees of a local body, judges, certain office-bearers of some cooperative societies, officials of Service Commission or Board, and vice chancellors and teachers in universities.

As pointed out in ‘Recreating Frankenstein’s monster’, there are about 55 lakh government employees (13 lakh in the Railways alone). There will be several lakhs more in other categories coming under the definition of public servant according to the Prevention of Corruption Act. Obviously, one person cannot supervise and decide on presumably millions of complaints pouring in against them. Hence, thousands of Lokpals, maybe 50,000 or more, will have to be appointed. They will have to be given salaries, offices, staff, etc. Considering the low level of morality prevailing in India, we can be fairly certain that most of them will become blackmailers. It will create a parallel bureaucracy, which in one stroke will double the corruption in the country. And who will guard these Praetorian Guards? A body of Super Lokpals?

All this was not rationally analysed. Instead, the hysterical mob that gathered in Jantar Mantar and Ramlila grounds in Delhi thought that corruption would be ended by shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Inquilab Zindabad”.

It is time Indians woke up to all this. When I called 90 per cent of them fools my intention was not to harm them, rather it was just the contrary. I want to see Indians prosper, I want poverty and unemployment abolished, I want the standard of living of the 80 per cent poor Indians to rise so that they get decent lives.

But this is possible when their mindset changes, when their minds are rid of casteism, communalism and superstition, and they become scientific and modern.

By being modern, I do not mean wearing a nice suit or a beautiful sari or skirt. Being modern means having a modern mind, which means a rational mind, a logical mind, a questioning mind, a scientific mind. At one time, India led the world in science and technology (see my article “Sanskrit as a language of Science” on kgfindia.com). That was because our scientific ancestors, like Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Sushruta, Charaka etc, questioned everything. However, we subsequently took the unscientific path of superstition and empty ritual, which has led us to disaster. Today we are far behind the West in science and technology.

The worst thing in life is poverty, and 80 per cent of our people are poor. To abolish poverty, we need to spread the scientific outlook to every nook and corner of our country. It is only then that India will shine. And until that happens, the vast majority of our people will continue to be taken for a ride.

 The writer, a former judge of the Supreme Court, is chairman of the Press Council, express@expressindia.com

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS

River-engineering and the courts

BY V R KRISHNA IYER PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

The concept of judicial infallibility is valid, but a legal pronouncement need not always be the last word on a given subject.

The article in The Hindu by Ramaswamy R. Iyer, “With all due respect, My Lords,” on March 2, a critical study of the ruling of the Supreme Court giving certain directions under the authority of Article 141, relating to inter-linking of rivers was noteworthy. And his request to reconsider the decision deserves serious consideration.

What the Supreme Court decides is final not because it is infallible; it is infallible because it is constitutionally final and structurally supreme. If ignorance is made final, governance becomes chaos. That is why the Montesquieuan theory of the trinity of instrumentalities is accepted by many Constitutions across the world, including the Indian Constitution. What is in the realm of the Executive is decided by the Executive. What is legislative, in the shape of law, is decided by the Legislature. When there is a dispute over a fact or law, the decision of the court is final, and all the other branches of the structure are bound by the judicial decision.

From this perspective, river disputes fall within the jurisdiction of the judiciary. But, for instance, how high an aircraft should fly without the possibility of danger, or how a safe dam should be constructed to store water, are matters highly technical, and hence these do not belong to jurisprudence or judges. I was once a Minister for Irrigation and Electricity (in Kerala) and started projects on the advice of engineers. The court never interfered, nor could they. There may be some areas where submergence by a river may cause risks — and on the basis of clear technical advice a court may pronounce an order. The jurisdictional borders of the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are fairly clear, and one of them cannot interfere with the other. Viewed from this angle, I agree with Mr. Ramaswamy Iyer’s critical observations.

Judges, merely because they wear robes, cannot decide on the course of rivers, whether they should be linked or not, and if at all, how they should be linked — just as they cannot decide on matters to do with the safety of flights or other such technical issues. Judges are not infallible; and they cannot issue executive directions or promulgate legal mandates or punitive impositions in such contexts.

‘Hasten slowly’

The central flaw of the Supreme Court’s verdict on the inter-linking issue is the failure to realise that a pan-Indian river project may have dangerous limitations. The Ganga and the Cauvery are two great rivers, but they cannot be linked up without first making a careful and exhaustive study of the various features of the terrain through which they flow over a vast territory of India. Otherwise, it may well end up as a horrendous blunder, irreparable after the decision is operationalised. A national debate involving also the great engineers, especially river engineers, that we have is essential before undertaking the implementation of a national project such as this.

The Supreme Court is indeed infallible, but while in its jural specialties it may well be top of the league, it is largely innocent in matters to do with mighty river-engineering. Therefore, great caution with all the wisdom at our command, must first be used to study the implications and the perils of this Himalayan-scale project before implementing a juristic wonder beyond what the Supreme Court has so lightly directed. Where the implications are too great to grasp and the consequences may be beyond repair, “hasten slowly” will be a good piece advice. Never assume that the robed wisdom that is good for jurisprudence will not land us in dangerous waters.

Therefore, never be in a hurry. Study every dimension of this huge project. When the project was announced a decade ago in 2002, one section of public opinion supported it, and another opposed its implementation. It is without taking any note of the conflicting public opinion that the present binding directions have been issued by the court.

(V.R. Krishna Iyer was a Judge of the Supreme Court of India.)

National Legal Research Desk on Violence Against Women and Children

Supreme Court of India

NATIONAL LEGAL RESEARCH DESK

The Constitution of India provides for special treatment of women, guarantees equality and prohibits discrimination. The government of India has been strengthening various laws focused on women and children. This has been more visible since the Beijing CEDAW Conference. The recent years have been witness to some landmark interpretations and directives related to Violence against Women.  Despite the constitutional mandate of equal legal status for men and women, the same is yet to be realized. The dejure laws have not been translated into defacto situation for various reasons such as illiteracy, social practices, prejudices, cultural norms based on patriarchal values, poor representation of women in policy-making, poverty, regional disparity in development, lack of access and opportunity to information and resources, etc. The ground situation more or less remains the same.

Most of the laws come with various institutional machinery, partnership between various stakeholders and active role of NGOs.  These institutions need to be in existence in order for the law to be effective. Also the policies and programmes made at the top takes a long time to percolate to the bottom and there is an urgent need of sharing information and resoursces.

 The awareness on laws and access to justice remains dismal. At the district and the state level sensitivity on women rights among judicial officers, administration and the police is very low. This leads to a situation where the implementation of the law becomes difficult.  Recently India has increased its budgetary support for the implementation of various laws on violence against women and it becomes increasingly more important for the organization like Shakti Vahini to work on governance specially related to women and children issuesThe National Legal Research Desk (NLRD) has been instituted to strengthen the implementation of the laws related to Women and Children in India. NLRD focuses on documenting the recent changes in the law, collect and compile the Recent Landmark Judgments of the Supreme Courts of India & the High Courts and ensure wide scale dissemination of the same through the government and the non government machinery. The NLRD will work with Law Enforcement Agencies, Police Academies, Judicial Agencies, Government Agencies, Statutory Agencies, NGOs, Civil Society and Mass Media on promoting Access to Justice for Women and Children. The NLRD website is a knowledge Hub for compilation of all Laws, Judgements and Resource materials on Violence against Women and Children in India. In the first phase (2012) it will focus on the laws related to Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Justice, Rape Laws, PCPNDT Act , Honour Crimes and Victim Compensation.

NATIONAL LEGAL RESEARCH DESK

Govt faces Supreme Court ire over pendency

Supreme Court of India

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday said pendency of 3 crore cases could not be effectively dealt with unless the government created more courts and filled vacancies because annual disposal of cases by trial courts, high courts and the Supreme Court only matched the numbers filed every year, leaving the backlog untouched.

If a bench of Justices A K Ganguly and T S Thakur questioned additional solicitor general Harin Raval on the Centre‘s policy decisions on judicial reforms including speeding up of justice delivery, another bench of Justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar was critical of the UPA government’s decision to scrap fast-track courts.

The bench of Justices Ganguly and Thakur accepted Raval’s contention that it would be a mismatch if the government was asked to create more posts of judges when a large number of such posts was lying vacant.

But it wanted to know from the ASG whether any of the policy decisions intended to create more courts in view of a finding that the country would require 75,000 more trial judges in the next three decades.

It asked the Centre to refer to the Law Commission, which is doing a comprehensive study in this regard, to include in its terms of reference the need for increasing the number of courts and ways and means to deal with the vacancy problem.

On the other hand, amicus curiae and senior advocate P S Narasimha drew the attention of a bench of Justices Patnaik and Kumar to the scrapping of fast-track courts from March 31, 2011.

The bench said during the All India Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Ministers, there was unanimity that FTCs had played a constructive role in reducing arrears and should be continued.

It looked into the law ministry’s file relating to discontinuation of these courts and found that a decision had been taken to run morning and evening courts in place of fast-track courts. Narasimha said whenever there was an attempt to hinder speedy justice, constitutional courts had inherent power to take necessary corrective measures to ensure financial grants to sustain existing justice delivery system. The bench reserved verdict on the issue.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Govt-faces-Supreme-Court-ire-over-pendency/articleshow/11470131.cms

“When an Institution No Longer matters, we no longer matter.”

Supreme Court of India

Chief Justice of India Shri S H Kapadia- Speech on the ocassion of Law Day 2011

We have assembled today to celebrate the anniversary of a momentous event, the anniversary of the adoption of our Constitution, the day on which our founding fathers subscribed to this document by signing the same and thereby unfolding the philosophy – social, economic and political, for the governance of free India. We have every reason to be proud of and to celebrate that unique occasion. We take this opportunity to thank the founding fathers, for this document, who spent a good deal of their time and energy in giving shape to this suprema lex which was to guide the future destination of the country. We are ever grateful to them. The foremost reason why we are proud of our Constitution is that it promises governance through the Rule of Law. While in many countries which initially opted for a democratic form of Government the euphoria lasted for brief spells, we are of the view that in our country, notwithstanding its complexity, democracy has stabilized and democratic institutions have flourished. The survival of democracy in India has left many bewildered.

The socio-economic transformation – a welfare State and an egalitarian society as its objective – must also be through the process of law. It is true that such desired socio-economic transformation through process of law has been slow, however, the march has been steady. Today, rule-specific laws are being substituted by rights-specific laws (RTE, RTI, Food Security Bill). These socio-economic legislation requires a paradigm shift in the matter of interpretation of Article 14, Article 21 and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. Courts have come from formal equality to egalitarian equality to the concept of Deprivation.

 Judicial independence is one of the essential elements of Rule of Law. Every civilized society has seen the need for an impartial and independent judiciary. The principle of Judicial Independence has acquired renewed significance, since the Constitution of India has conferred on the Judiciary the power of judicial review. However, keeping in mind the doctrine of Separation of Powers, Judiciary has to exercise considerable restraint to ensure that the surcharged democracy does not lead to a breakdown of the working of the Parliament and the Government. The Judiciary needs to work in the area demarcated by the Constitution. Awareness about rights has grown while correspondingly redressal from the Executive has been reduced. The Executive has its own compulsions – huge population, lack of resources, high inflation, global economic region etc. As a consequence litigation has multiplied. Despite commendable achievements in terms of disposal which I will presently demonstrate, the challenge is and should be for Zero Pendency in which direction a lot needs to be done.

Today, the crisis of confidence in human institutions has come to the forefront. The deficiency of every institution in tackling the growing and complicated social problems has become a common feature. It is a challenge for every institution. Every democratic institution needs to meet this challenge. The viability of judicial institutions depends upon their acceptability by the people. When the viability of the system gets into disrepute and ultimately the system becomes less and less useful to the community, the challenge lies in rejuvenating the system by restoring its credibility and people’s faith in it. Thus, the foremost challenge to the

Judiciary today is viability of the system. Citizens approach the Court only when there is confidence in the system and faith in the wisdom of the Judges. This is where the Public Trust doctrine comes in. The Institution stands on public trust.

 I am an optimist. I do not share the impression that judicial system has collapsed or is fast collapsing. I strongly believe and maintain that with all the drawbacks and limitations with shortage of resources and capacity, we still have a time-tested system. This is no justification to discard the system by giving it bad name. Judiciary has performed a commendable job, which is indicated by the Status Report. Before reading the statistical data, let me say that there is a need to highlight that all the stakeholders are accountable for maintaining and achieving standards of Court Excellence. The general tendency is to put the entire blame on the Judges.

The executive including the police and the Bar have an important role to play in expeditious disposal of cases. There is a backlog of cases, however, it is not as big as is sought to be projected. Please note that 74% of the cases are less than five years old. The focus: expeditious disposal of 26% of cases which are more than five years old i.e. “Five plus free” should be the initiative.

CONCLUSION :

B. R. Ambedkar delivering a speech to a rally ...
Image via Wikipedia

India is an aspirational democracy. It is the shared idea of India to emerge from Society which has individuals of diverse ideologies, cultures and religious denominations. We must, therefore, identify common strands that will bind us, as one nation and one people. Unless this is done we cannot build a modern and strong India. In the hierarchy of values, judicial integrity is above judicial independence. Judicial accountability needs to be balanced with judicial independence. I would request the Bar as well as eminent jurists to deliberate upon constitutional concepts such as Judicial Independence and Judicial Accountability. We, the Judges, do not mind a studied fair criticism. However, as an advice to the Bar please do not dismantle an Institution without showing how to build a better one. Please remember “When an Institution No Longer matters, we no longer matter.”

Bringing legal aid a step closer home

U. Sarathchandran IN THE HINDU

The provision of legal aid to the poor and the disadvantaged exists in all civilised countries, often guided by charitable and philanthropic concerns. In a democratic set-up, the philosophy of legal aid has acquired a new meaning, with an emphasis on the concept of equality of all human beings, increasingly drawn from the universal principles of human rights. Free legal aid to the poor and marginalised members of society is now viewed as a tool to empower them to use the power of the law to advance their rights and interests as citizens, and as economic actors. Such a paradigm shift in the concept of legal aid gains greater importance when India is viewed as a growing economic power.

Parliament enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 in order to give effect to Article 39-A of the Constitution to extend free legal aid, to ensure that the legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity. (November 9 is observed as National Legal Services Day, to commemorate the enactment of the legislation.) Those entitled to free legal services are members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, women, children, persons with disability, victims of ethnic violence, industrial workmen, persons in custody, and those whose income does not exceed a level set by the government (currently it is Rs.1 lakh a year in most States). The Act empowers legal services authorities at the district, State and national levels, and the different committees (legal services institutions) to organise Lok Adalats to resolve pending and pre-litigation disputes. It provides for permanent Lok Adalats to settle disputes involving public utility services. Under the Act, “legal services” have a meaning that includes rendering of service in the conduct of any court-annexed proceedings or proceedings before any authority, tribunal and so on, and giving advice on legal matters. Promoting legal literacy and conducting legal awareness programmes are functions of legal services institutions.

Access to justice

The Constitution treats all citizens as being equal and provides them equal protection under the law. Yet, the common person faces barriers to ‘access to justice.’

Illiteracy, lack of financial resources and social backwardness are major factors that hinder the common person from accessing justice. There are other invisible barriers: lack of courage to exercise legal rights, the proclivity to suffer silently the denial of rights, and geographical and spatial barriers are examples. Such barriers keep people disempowered and subjected to exploitation by powerful people. This results in their being shoved away from the mainstream, and they become constrained in becoming potential economic actors contributing to the nation’s development.

The Act provides for a machinery to ensure access to justice to all through the institutions of legal services authorities and committees. These institutions are manned by judges and judicial officers. Parliament entrusted the judiciary with the task of implementing the provisions of the Act, as the other pillars of the government were neither inclined nor had the expertise to take up the responsibility to provide access to justice to the weaker sections.

Reaching out

One of the problems faced by legal services institutions is their inability to reach out to the common people. This hiatus between them and the common people was perceived as indirectly defeating the objectives of the Act. It is in this context that the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has come up with the idea of para-legal volunteers to bridge the gap between the common person and legal services institutions.

The scheme seeks to utilise community-based volunteers selected from villages and other localities to provide basic legal services to the common people. Educated persons with commitment to social service and with a record of good character are selected. The volunteers are trained by district legal services authorities. The training equips them to identify the law-related needs of the marginalised in their locality. Such needs include assistance to secure legal rights, benefits and actionable entitlements under different government schemes that are denied to them. Coming as they do from the same locality, they are in a better position to identify those who need assistance and bring them to the nearest legal services institutions to solve their problems within the framework of law. They can assist disempowered people to get their entitlements from government offices where ordinary people often face hassles on account of bureaucratic lethargy and apathy.

Legal aid clinics in villages

In order to reach out to the common people, NALSA has come up with a project to set up legal aid clinics in all villages, subject to financial viability. Ignorance of what to do when faced with law-related situations is a common problem for disempowered people. Legal aid clinics work on the lines of primary health centres, where assistance is given for simple ailments and other minor medical requirements of village residents. Legal aid clinics assist in drafting simple notices, filling up forms to avail benefits under governmental schemes and by giving initial advice on simple problems. A legal aid clinic is a facility to assist and empower people who face barriers to ‘access to justice.’

Trained para-legal volunteers are available to run legal aid clinics in villages. The common people in villages will feel more confident to discuss their problems with a friendly volunteer from their own community rather than with a city-based legal professional. The volunteers will refer any complicated legal matters that require professional assistance to the nearest legal services institutions. When complex legal problems are involved, the services of professional lawyers will be made available in the legal aid clinics.

Free and competent legal services

There has been a widespread grievance that lawyers engaged by legal services institutions do not perform their duties effectively and that the lawyers are not paid commensurately for their work. In order to solve these problems, NALSA has framed the National Legal Services Authority (Free and Competent Legal services) Regulations, 2010 to provide free and competent legal services. Scrutiny of legal aid applications, monitoring of cases where legal aid is provided, and engaging senior lawyers on payment of regular fees in special cases, are the salient features of the Regulations. In serious matters where the life and liberty of a person are in jeopardy, the Regulations empower legal services authorities to specially engage senior lawyers.

Children’s rights, a neglected field

Juveniles including children constitute more than a third of India’s population. Yet, children and their rights are neglected. The problems of children are often seen through the spectacles of an adult. Consequently, the rights of children who are orphaned, abandoned and in conflict with the law are not properly handled by government officials and juvenile justice institutions. Denied care and protection, they may end up as children in conflict with law. At the same time, children in conflict with the law need care and protection. In October 2011, the Supreme Court, in Sampurna Behrua v. Union of India , a public interest litigation, directed the Directors General of Police of the States to designate one police officer in each police station as juvenile/child welfare officer. The court directed legal services authorities to train such police officials and give free legal services to all children in conflict with law on an incremental basis, starting with the State capital cities.

Legal services to the mentally-ill and the mentally-retarded, to workers in the unorganised sector, and to solve disputes arising out of the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, are other schemes drawn up by NALSA for implementation by legal services institutions. A web-based monitoring system is in place to monitor their activities. NALSA works with civil society organisations, specialised statutory bodies and government departments.

Legal services institutions have until now functioned in uncharted waters, often making their presence felt only at certain ports of call like court-based legal services, organising legal literacy camps and Lok Adalats. Now, with a paradigm shift in the concept of legal services, legal services authorities are reaching out to the people to facilitate ‘access to justice’ to all in the most practicable and economical manner.

(The author is Member-Secretary, National Legal Services Authority, New Delhi.)

Para-legal volunteers can help bridge the gap between the ordinary citizen and legal services institutions.

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/article2610220.ece