Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan has said that India can have zonal benches of the Supreme Court, if the principal bench hears only constitutional matters and inter-state disputes.
“In many countries — Canada, Brazil, South Africa, the UK, the USA, Supreme Courts adjudicate only disputes between the states. If a constitutional court is there, creating an appellate court can be thought of. That can be regional also,” the CJI told HT in an exclusive interview.
Responding to Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani's suggestion for creation of four zonal benches of the Supreme Court in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai, Justice Balakrishnan said: “There can be a constitution bench of five judges, seven judges or nine judges… whatever be the composition…”
Then there could be appellate forums with powers to hear appeals from High Court under Article 136 and writ petitions under Article 32, he added. Creation of zonal benches has been a long-pending demand of southern states but the Supreme Court Full Bench has consistently taken a stand against any such move, perhaps apprehending that it could undermine its authority.
Addressing a conference of the BJP Legal Cell last month, Advani had said the SC's principal bench should hear only inter-state disputes, constitutional matters and other important cases while zonal benches would hear appeals arising from high courts. “We could consider this reform if there is broad consensus on it,” Advani had said.
“Both citizens and the legal fraternity across the country feel that the SC has become too remote, too inaccessible and too burdened with all kinds of cases,” he had said.
Maintaining that the suggestion was not new, Justice Balakrishnan said: “Our SC in the strict sense is not a constitutional court i.e. a court dealing with just constitutional matters. We hear appeals under Article 136. Cases come on various subjects. We have got original jurisdiction, Article 32 (writ jurisdiction)…we also hear Public Interest Litigations.”
The CJI said if such a decision is taken, the SC should be a “complete constitutional court…Only constitutional matters and disputes between the States would be considered. Disputes related to water, disputes about other such matters.”