Rise in pendency in Supreme court due to Covid-19 restrictions: CJI Ramana
The Supreme Court currently has at least 71,400 cases pending. When Justice Ramana took over as CJI in April 2021, a little over 67,000 cases awaited disposal.
Ten days before he hangs up his boots, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana acknowledged the growing pendency in the Supreme Court, attributing the rising numbers to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns.
The Supreme Court currently has at least 71,400 cases pending. When Justice Ramana took over as CJI in April 2021, a little over 67,000 cases awaited disposal. A total of 492 constitution bench matters, involving 53 main cases entailing crucial questions of law and constitutional interpretations, also remain pending in the top court. These include challenges to the abrogation of Article 370 to annul special status for Jammu and Kashmir, powers of the court to intervene into matters relating to religion and faith, limits on the right to free speech, reservation policy and the power tussle between the Centre and Delhi government over control of bureaucrats.
Justice Ramana is set to demit office on August 26.
Speaking at an event organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) to celebrate Independence Day, the CJI said that the top court has inherited the backlog of nearly a year on the account of Covid and lockdowns.
“In the last 16 months, we could physically assemble for only 55 days. I wish the situation were different and we could have been more productive. It is just and natural for people to have high expectations, but regrettably, the forces of nature were against us,” said Justice Ramana, adding he hopes the situation to improve in near future so that the courts can function to their full potential.
Recalling the time when he was appointed as CJI, Justice Ramana rued that the pandemic ruined everything. “Not even my family members could attend the swearing-in ceremony, there was fear everywhere. Many near and dear ones lost our lives. Lawyers, judges, officers of the registry were scared to even touch documents.”
In an interview with the Hindustan Times published on Monday, CJI-designate Justice Uday Umesh Lalit also flagged the issue of pendency in the Supreme Court, asserting that the top court must take the lead in reducing the pendency “at the earliest”.
Justice Lalit, who takes the helm on August 27, pointed out that one pending case in the Supreme Court begets several more cases at different levels of courts and therefore, the need of the hour is to immediately tackle the ones pending before the highest court of the land.
Acknowledging that constitution bench cases have taken a back seat in the recent past, the CJI-designate told HT that the highest court of the land must untangle complex questions of law, which by virtue of being unresolved, spark off a spate of litigation at every level and choke the judicial system.
In his speech on Monday, Justice Ramana underscored the significance of the Constitution, which he called the “most progressive and scientific document” that the Supreme Court must, as its guardian, protect .
Under the constitutional framework, the CJI said, each organ in democracy has a unique obligation and that the executive, legislature and the judiciary are equal repositories of the constitutional trust.
“The notion that justice is only the responsibility of the Court is dispelled by Article 38 of the Indian Constitution which mandates the State to secure justice: social, economic and political. Every deed of each organ of the state has to be in the spirit of the Constitution. I must note that all the three organs of the State, i.e., the executive, legislature and the judiciary, are equal repositories of the constitutional trust,” he added.
On the role of the courts, CJI Ramana said that not only has the Indian judiciary always strived to fulfill the constitutional aspirations of the people, it has also strengthened various independent institutions such as the Election Commission and the Central Vigilance Commission through interpretative exercises.
“The legislature may not be able to foresee issues which might come up during the implementation. By interpretation of statutes, the courts have given effect to the true intent of the legislature. The courts have breathed life into the statutes, by making them relevant to the contemporary times,” he added.
The Indian judicial system, Justice Ramana said, is unique not only because of its commitment to the written Constitution and its spirit, but also because of the immense faith reposed by the people in the system.
“People are confident that they will get relief and justice from the judiciary. It gives them the strength to pursue a dispute. They know that when things go wrong, the judiciary will stand by them. The Indian Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution in the world’s largest democracy,” he stressed.
In his address, the CJI also talked about Indianisation of the judiciary by spreading the constitutional culture among citizens by way of promoting local and regional languages so as to enhance their understanding of the Constitution and its nuances. “I urge every citizen, to be a meaningful stakeholder in our democracy. We all must try to imbibe the constitutional philosophy in its true spirit” he added.
Union law minister Kiren Rijiju also spoke at the function, stating that the judiciary in no other country had a load similar to that in India where each judge is supposed to disposed of 40 to 50 cases in a day. Rijiju added that for realising the strong vision of the Prime Minister in making India a developed nation, all three organs, namely, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary will have to work as a team.
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