Justice delayed and denied

Joginder Singh
    Former Director – CBI

The Government has clearly failed to fulfil its duties as mandated by the Constitution, including that of ensuring justice for every citizen. 

The Constitution of India lays down the framework of defining fundamental political principles, establishes the structure, procedures, powers and duties of Government and spells out the Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles and duties of all citizens. It is the longest written Constitution of any sovereign country in the world, containing 444 articles in 24 Parts, 12 Schedules and 94 Amendments. The Preamble states:

We, the People of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens:

Justice, social, economic and political;

Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.

How far we have succeeded in giving justice to the poorest of the poor after more than six decades of independence is best reflected in the speech of the Union Minister for Finance at the national consultation for strengthening the judiciary on July 31: “The poor feel let down by the judicial system. They are attracted towards extremist ideologies and taking the law in their hands.” The blame, however, cannot be laid at the doors of the judiciary alone. Judicial delays are due to the reluctance of the Government to strengthen the judiciary. We have one of the lowest population to judges ratio, lengthy procedures and outdated laws.

The Union Minister for Law and Justice has admitted in Parliament that the “delay in filling up the vacancies of judges is one of the main reasons for accumulation of pending cases in courts.” According to the Minister, 32.06 per cent — 287 of 895 sanctioned posts — were lying vacant in 21 High Courts across India in October-end, 2010. In March last year, the Minister had informed Parliament that there were 273 posts lying vacant in High Courts. In district and subordinate courts, 3,070 of the 17,090 sanctioned judicial posts were lying vacant. In other words, as the number of vacancies continues to increase, so does the number of pending cases.

The courts, from the lowest to the highest, between them had an estimated 32.12 million cases pending as on September 30, 2010. The number of pending cases was 31.54 million on June 30, 2010. These figures speak for themselves to show the wrongs, injustices and conflicts our people have to live with. For many victims of injustice, critics say, the courts are the last resort for seeking justice, given the competence and accountability issues surrounding the bar and the bench; moreover, the process is often expensive and dilatory with inconsistent outcomes.

Theoretically, all institutions of governance are responsible to the people of India. But in reality they are the masters of the people as nothing can be done to any institution or the Government if it does not perform its duty as mandated by the law or the Constitution. The Government had sometime back announced that it would introduce a law guaranteeing Right to Justice to every citizen. The problem is that we have the most number of laws and, at the same time, most poorly governed.

Do we really need a law to ensure justice for every citizen? The duty of ensuring justice is enshrined in the Preamble to our Constitution. A reality check on how far the Government has done its duty by the Constitution would make for sad commentary and reflect poorly on our institutions. What we have is crisis after crisis of governance. Nobody doubts the personal integrity of the Prime Minister, but hardly anybody believes that anything worthwhile has been done to check corruption under his watch.

Be it the 2G Spectrum scam or the Commonwealth Games lootfest, the Adarsh Housing Society scandal or the appointment of a tainted bureaucrat as the Central Vigilance Commissioner on the pretext that the Prime Minister was unaware of the chargesheet pending against him, they are all manifestations of the Government’s inability to handle even ordinary matters. Even the priorities of the Government are skewed. It can spend tens of thousands of crores of rupees on an 11-day show called the Commonwealth Games but when it comes to improving the criminal justice system which is crucial to good governance, it pretends it has no money!

The Supreme Court has more than once observed that the criminal justice system has been subverted with witnesses being manipulated and trials being hijacked with judges and lawyers reduced to “handicapped witnesses”. Comparing the lower courts with ill-equipped and ill-staffed public health centres in rural areas which people avoid, the Supreme Court once observed: “The courts of magistrate and munsif have ceased to be an option for the common man.”

The Government suffers from the delusion that its duty to the citizens of the country as mandated by the Constitution is done by passing laws. Most of these laws are framed only to be honoured more in the breach than in the observance. In any event, a scrutiny of these laws would reveal that they are framed with a view to let off criminals than to punish them. Criminals know this better than anybody else: There are any number of loopholes in the laws meant to prevent crimes for them to wriggle through and escape punishment. Given this fact, it is not surprising that there is an alarming spurt in crimes and criminal activities ranging from murder and theft to abduction and rape.

North India has emerged as the country’s most crime-infested region as far as crimes against women and children are concerned. Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, the national capital, continue to witness an alarming increase in the incidence of rape. Rajasthan is close behind with even children not being spared by rapists. The statistics of other States across the country are no less depressing. The only fault of women and children who are targetted by rapists is that they are either too weak or too young to defend themselves. Rare is the occasion when their rapists are brought to trial and punished.

In short, the Government has failed the Constitution and the people of India on almost all fronts despite tall claims of economic growth. The poor have become poorer and the rich have become richer. In a nutshell, we are as well off or as poor as we were before our independence.