Appropriate judicial infrastructure is an indispensable need for efficient justice delivery and its absence is detrimental to the interest of not just litigants and advocates but the judges and staffs working in the judicial institutions. And Justice NV Ramana, ever since assuming office as the Chief Justice of India, has raised concerns about the inadequate judicial infrastructure being one of the major factors creating bottlenecks in the access to justice.
The CJI while speaking at the inauguration of two wings of the annexe building at the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court, said, “Judicial infrastructure is important for improving access to justice, but it is baffling to note that its improvement and maintenance was being carried out in an ad-hoc and unplanned manner in the country.” Outlining the enormity of the problem concerning judicial infrastructure, he further said, "We are faced with certain hard facts like several courts do not have proper facilities. Some courts function out of dilapidated buildings. Judicial infrastructure is important for improving access to justice." He said the building inaugurated at Aurangabad on Saturday was planned in 2011, but "it has taken 10 years for this vision to be implemented is extremely worrisome. This is a deeper problem that has plugged our judicial infrastructure planning since the Independence." He further said, "An effective judiciary can aid in the effective growth of the economy,"
Therefore, as an essential course-correction to the existing problem of inadequate judicial infrastructure the CJI has come up with the idea of National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation (NJIC) so as to build state-of-the-art courts. There is indeed an enormous task before the NJIC and one of the significant challenges before it is ensuring inclusivity in accessibility of courts for various sections of the society including those having physical difficulties.
Because fact remains that very little number of courts have ramps at the entry and inside court premises; and an abysmally low number of courts have visual aid tools such as Braille notices and very few have washrooms designated for persons with disabilities, guide maps and helpdesks. At present the district courts are sanctioned and built under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Judicial Infrastructure (CSS) and the revised guidelines for the CSS prescribes court complexes with barrier-free access. Besides, the National Court Management Systems Report (NCMS), 2012, also prescribes for similar features in the court infrastructure as court complexes should be easily accessible for all.
That also includes provision for the design to meet local needs and conditions, like graphic signage systems to overcome language barriers and to have washrooms that are accessible to persons with disabilities. But the problem remains in the fact that both of the documents are not legally binding and they do not provide a comprehensive policy to make court complexes universally accessible.
Another issue is the authority to sanction courts for the lower judiciary is vested with the High Courts and the final decision regarding allocation of land, granting permissions for the court complex, etc., are taken at the state government-level in consultation with respective high courts, this is irrespective of the financial support for judicial infrastructure being given by the Central Government through CSS. And this procedure also takes quite long time as it has to go through a lot of departments, like the law, finance, Public Works and finally the court officials.
The NJIC, as contemplated and conceptualised by the CJI, will have the CJI, Supreme Court judges, high court judges, finance secretaries at the central and state level and therefore shall be effective in jumping over the bureaucratic hurdles, but it is important that, it should have experts from professional background, whose participation shall be important for implementing the intent of the NJIC. Apart from this, it is also essential to have a legally enforceable regulation which shall provide comprehensive guidelines to make court complexes universally accessible.
(The writer is an Additional Central Government Standing Counsel, Central Administrative Tribunal, Cuttack Bench and a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law and Media Studies at School of Mass Communication, KIIT University. He can be reached at email@example.com.