The single point demand of the 5-day strike by Calcutta High Court Lawyers in August was about filling up the vacancies of the Judges with a view to clearing the mounting backlog of cases and earn confidence of the litigants towards the Judiciary. The allegation was that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court failed to pay much attention in appointing adequate judges for Calcutta High Court.
Already the Calcutta High Court has earned bad reputation in the country with regard to disposal of cases which is at alarmingly low rate. Inadequate number of Judges have failed to tackle the crisis situation and the ultimate sufferers have been the people.
In West Bengal, about 18,60,000 court cases are pending, of which 3,50,000 cases of original and appelate sides are pending only with the Calcutta High Court. And yet the authorities do not bother about the horrifying scenario. Each year filing of nearly 50,000 new cases are compounding the backlog of cases to millions, while the rate of annual disposal or settlement of cases is at an alarmingly low rate of 3% only. Interestingly, the expenditure of the High Court per case has also mischievously shot up to Rs 10,000/-. Simultaneously, the litigants are being forced to pay much for the failure in timely disposal of the cases.
But there are other views too. The country's law minister, Mr Ram Jethmalani who recently resigned from the Cabinet, once observed, "overhaulihg the judicial system is necessary to combat the fatal combination of incompetence and corruption among police, prosecutors, witnesses and judges which frustrates justice". He attempted to translate his suggestion into practice.The BJP-led Government at the Centre, keeping in view the 'overhauling of the Judiciary' as per its election promise, got section 89 of Code of Civil Procedure (Amendment) Act, 1999 amended in the last winter session of the Parliament with an unbelievable speed.
The country's lawyers were up in arms against the amendment allleging it as a gross violation of the fundamental rights. The rights as they described was to make appeal in the division bench against the judgement passed by the single bench. The amendment removed the clause and directed that henceforth cases tried in the single bench may be referred to the Lok Adalat for spot disposal of the cases without any payment of fees by the litigants. In case unliked by the litigants, they may make appeal in the Supreme Court which is undoubtedly a costly affair and the agitating lawmen describe it as a new source of harrassment and denial of justice. However, Bajpai Government did not show its courage to enforce the amendment effectively as it feared loss of faith of the country's legal community. In fact, they failed to calculate the nature of reaction of the amendment. So, it is now safe in cold storage.
Legal aid schemes have obtained statutory sanction under Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 and the Rules in force since November 1995. The genesis of the legal aid scheme is found in Article 39A of the Constitution. The Article ensures that the states
in the federation make available free legal aid to needy and disabled litigants. Accordingly Lok Adalat was established throughout the country to render free of cost service to the litigants of civil matters. Litigants have the rights to approach the Lok Adalat directly and may settle any civil dispute already tried at the Court level. Already encouraging results have been reported as may be evident from the figure released by National Legal Services Authority which shows that Lok Adalat in Uttar Pradesh has disposed of 3,340,022 cases and passed orders for payment of compensation for Rs 199,73,71,852/- as on 31.3.99. In the same period, Orissa has settled 12,40,713 cases with the payment of compensation for Rs. 58,7636,330/-. Bihar has disposed, of 89,099 cases with compensation for Rs 4,57,66,832/-. Andhra Pradesh could settle 2,96,355 cases with compensation for Rs162,01,73,308/-, Tamil Nadu settled 80,923 cases with compensation for Rs 295,52,80,739/-. Performance of the left ruled states is very discouraging. During the period West Bengal Lok Adalat has disposed of 5,192 cases only with the order for compensation for Rs21,16,73,791/- while Tripura managed to clear only 315 cases with compensation for Rs 74,13,630/-. Such poor performance has been stated to be the lack of seperate infrastructure with adequate manpower and funds.
While asked the West Bengal state Law & Justice Minister, N Adhikary the reason for non-filling up about 100 vacancies of Judges in the lower Judiciary under the direct control of the state, which resulted in 15,00,000 pending cases at the district level, he said that he would have to properly assess the situation before commenting on it. Such is the sorry state of affairs of the state of West Bengal. Here no one is ready to take any responsibility. In an earlier conversation, the Law Minister was also not in agreement with the view that the Lok Adalat was not satisfactorily functioning due to poor infrastracture which his ministry was supposed to set up adequately.
The bone of contention is to deliver speedy justice through adequate number of judges in the High Court of Calcutta or elsewhere. Talking to Frontier, Mr Arunabha Ghosh, Secretary of Calcutta High Court Bar Association said the Court was unable to clear the mounting number of both pending and new cases with the existing judges. Justice demands more judges but the government is not obliging. He said the situation remained identical during the last 3/4 years in the High Court. Calcutta High Court has a strength of 50 Judges, of which 20 vacancies remained unfilled during the period. He questioned how 3.5 lakh pending cases could be disposed of by only 30 Judges. Explaining the reason for delay in appointing Judges he said that the proposal originally mooted by the High Court had to cross various points like state ministry, Governor, central law ministry and finally chief justice of the Supreme Court. Each point took its own time to clear the case. Situation was not so worse before 1994 when the executives were empowered to appoint the Judges upto the level of the High Court. Since 1994, the Chief Justice of Supreme Court has been empowered to appoint judges upto High Court after an important judgement passed by the constitution Bench in the case of Supreme Court Advocates on Records Vs Union of India.