Ranchi, Aug.8 :The first ever conclave of India Legal on Access to Justice held in Ranchi this fortnight was a resounding success, as it was attended by Droupadi Murmu, the Governor of Jharkhand, Justice Virender Singh, the Chief Justice of the High Court of Jharkhand, Justice Anant Bijay Singh, Justice Apresh Singh, Justice Harish Chandra Mishra, Pravin H Parekh, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and other luminaries, including bureaucrats and lawyers.
The conclave discussed how justice to all was a must as it was a fundamental right but was not reaching many of those who needed it most.
Participants said that there are various causes for unequal justice, including lack of infrastructure, shortage of judges, rising pendency, administrative lapses like shoddy police investigation, presence of a criminal-politician nexus, under-trial prisoners not being able to secure bail even after many years in jail and so on.
Governor Murmu said that access to justice as a human rights concept based on dharma was familiar in ancient India.
The state in ancient India was neither sacerdotal, nor paternalistic. The concept of dharma was multi-dimensional. It was embraced and sustained in a compassionate sweep. It gave birth to both human rights and laws to safeguard them, she added. Stressing on the link between poverty and lack of knowledge of law, she said law education should become part of our curriculum so that justice becomes accessible to all.
She congratulated the India Legal Research Foundation (ILRF) for its bold initiative to make justice accessible to all.
Jharkhand Chief Justice Virender Singh noted the importance of this method of case disposal in jurisprudence and underscored how it would go a long way in reducing the already-humongous caseload on Indian judges and make way for speedy justice.
"A judiciary where access is gagged and the institutions which are responsible do nothing to remove the obstacles ceases to be an independent system," he said.
Vimal Kirti Singh, Jharkhand's former principal secretary (energy), pointed out that the authorities should be alert enough to protect the rights of citizens so that they do not have to go to court to secure them.
He also advised automation and digitization wherever possible to promote efficient governance. "Karnataka has made sure that the number of property disputes there goes down. It has computerized records, making it easy for people to access them and confirm which piece of land belongs to whom...In comparison, the people of Jharkhand still take ages to figure out the same thing," he said. India Legal editor-in-chief Inderjit Badhwar said that soon after launching India Legal it attracted some of the finest writers, reporters and editors in the country, many of whom were legends in their own lifetime.
A short film by APN TV was shown at the conclave, highlighting the infrastructural problems currently plaguing our judiciary.
The film brought home the point that justice delayed is justice denied. At present, there is only one judge for 73,000 people or, 17 judges for 10 lakh people. Transpose this with the Law Commission recommendation, saying there should be 50 judges per 10 lakh people.
Pendency of cases is a serious issue. Till June this year, about 60,000 cases were pending in the Supreme Court. In the high courts, the figure has crossed a staggering 42 lakh and in the lower courts it is nearly 2.65 crore! There are only 16,438 judges currently operating in the lower courts.
In the 24 high courts of the country, there are 621 judges against a sanctioned figure of 1,079 judges.
In the Supreme Court there are 29 judges while the sanctioned strength is 31. There are about 80,000 cases pending in the Jharkhand High Court of which more than a half have been pending for over a year.
But there is a silver lining. In the year 2015, the Supreme Court cleared over 47,000 cases. In 2013, it was 40,000 cases in which the judges reached a verdict and in 2014, the judges dispensed with 45,000 cases.