New Delhi, July 10 :
The Supreme Court Thursday scoffed at the abysmally low budgetary allocation being made for the judiciary in the union budget year after year, contributing to the lack of judges and the required judicial infrastructure, including manpower.
Chief Justice R.M.Lodha made the comment as a constitution bench comprising him, Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Justice J. Chelameswar, Justice A.K.Sikri and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman commenced hearing of a batch of petitions seeking that appeal in death sentence cases be heard by the bench of five judges.
The petitioners have also sought that the plea for the review of apex court verdict upholding death sentence too be heard by a five-judge bench in an open court.
“Ideally we will like to have a situation where proceedings in every case is completed in two to three years,” Chief Justice Lodha said but pointed to the paltry budgetary allocation. “Budget allocation is not even one percent. It is 0.4 percent,” he observed.
Chief Justice Lodha pointed out that with over 1.27 billion people, there were barely over 19,000 judges and judicial officers right from the Chief Justice of India down to the subordinate judiciary.
“We are not justifying the delay (in deciding cases) but we can’t close our eyes to the reality that with population of more than 1.27 billion, there are 19,006 judges with Chief Justice of India at the top to the lowest placed judge (in subordinate judiciary),” he said, adding: “System is not being allowed to grow and work.”
“In the smallest of the country in the world the judge-population ration is not so low,” he lamented, telling counsel: “You are a regular practitioner (in the court). You are not an outsider. Please appreciate the circumstance in which system is working.”
The Chief Justice said that the practising lawyers should not shut their eyes to the stark reality of shockingly low judge-population ratio while invoking Article 21 for an expeditious trial.
Ruing that there was no assessment of the impact a legislation would have on the judiciary, the court said that when Section 138 (Dishonour of cheque for insufficiency, etc., of funds in the accounts) was brought in the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, it was never thought “what havoc” it would cause to the judiciary. “Section 138 alone delays the justice delivery system.”
Chief Justice Lodha said that from Aug 16, the appeals before the apex court in death sentence cases would be heard by the bench of three judges.
He said that a committee headed by the then Chief Justice Altamas Kabir (since retired) comprising Justice P.Sathasivam (retired as Chief Justice) and himself had recommended the changes in the apex court rules providing for a three-judge bench to hear appeals in death row cases.
These changes have now got the assent of President Pranab Mukherjee and would be notified soon, he said.
The court said this as senior counsel K.K. Venugopal urged it that the appeals in death sentence cases be heard by the larger bench, and the plea for the review of its verdict in death row cases be heard by a five-judge bench in the open court.
The court is hearing a batch of petitions including Dec 22, 2000, Red Fort attack convict and Lashkar-e-Taiba militant Mohammad Arif alias Ashfaq, 1993 Mumbai bomb blast death row convict Yakub Abdul Razak Memon, and Nedunchezhiyan, Ravindran and C. Muniappan, convicted for setting on fire Feb 2, 2000, a Tamil Nadu Agricultural University bus in the Dharmapuri protesting against the sentencing of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.