Special Courts for corruption cases needed : PM

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{image-manmohan singh_19042008.jpg www.oneindia.com}New Delhi, Apr 19: Acknowledging ''corruption... both in government and the judiciary,'' Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today underscored ''urgent need'' to ''create special courts to deal with corruption cases.'' Inaugurating a joint conference of Chief Ministers of various States and Chief Justices of High Courts at Vigyan Bhavan, Dr Singh said the suggestion came from India's Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan.

''I agree that there is urgent need to do so,'' the Prime Minister told delegates to the two-day conference, which is an annual exercise intended to produce ''better administration of justice'' across India. Sharing the dais with him were Justice Balakrishnan, Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj, Minister of State for Law and Justice K Venkatapathy and Department of Justice Secretary Madhukar Gupta. Concern-- both expert and public-- about India's justice delivery system has increased rapidly over the past several years, bringing into question courts' ability to dispense justice given huge pendencies contributing to inordinate delays.

Notes on Agenda Items before the delegates have warned that unless ''something'' is done about delays in justice delivery and huge case arrears, ''the whole system would get crushed under its weight.'' Indian courts have close to 30 million cases pending and while experts have been calling for quadrupling the number of judges, a large number of sanctioned posts remain vacant.

The 39-page Notes neither used the word 'corruption' nor 'accountability,' although it figured at a conference of Chief Justices held prior to the joint conference.

As Dr Singh put it, ''apart from pendency and delayed justice, corruption is another challenge we face both in government and the juiciary.

''The Chief Justice of India has written to me suggesting that we create Special Courts to deal with corruption cases. I agree that there is urgent need to do so. This will instill greater confidence in our justice delivery system, at home and abroad.'' A resolution adopted by The Chief Justices resolved yesterday that ''Special Judges appointed under Prevention of Corruption Act shall deal primarily with corruption cases and as far as possible hold trial of such cases on a day-to-day basis.''

Prime Minister Singh started by acknowledging the apparently intractable issue of huge case pendencies. He said in ''all the previous Conferences, the issue of pendency of cases in the Courts has figured very prominently. ''Let me, therefore, reiterate at the very outset that this continues to remain a key challenge before us. We must work together to bring an end to this era of delayed justice. For, justice delayed can often mean justice denied.'' Dr Singh said leaders of judiciary and the Law and Justice Ministry ''are alive to this issue and sensitive to the problems that arise as a consequence. They have been taking a variety of measures to see to it that pendency comes down.'' But ''I am informed by the Ministry'' that ''a larger number of cases are being registered than the number of cases being disposed of. Pendency will, therefore, continue to increase unless special measures are taken.'' One solution suggested is to increase the number of judicial officers and judges in the High Courts and the Supreme Court, Dr Singh noted.

''There is clearly merit in this,'' he said, adding that 152 new posts of High Court judges were created recently and an increase in the number of Supreme Court judges ''is also being undertaken.'' Dr Singh did not specify the Law Commission recommendation made two decades ago to quadruple the number of judges-- currently estimated around 15,000.

He said the Central government has drawn the attention of the State governments to the need to urgently increase the strength of judicial officers at district and subordinate levels.

Dr Singh said some State governments recognise this and have taken measures and ''others would and should also need to do so.'' He also spoke of attending to the infrastructural needs of courts some of which suffer from ''a severe congestion'' and ''in many places have a sorry look about them.'' Dr Singh offered Central help to State governments in constructing new court buildings and homes for judges.

He touched on ''delays'' in utilisation of funds provided by the Central government to the States and urged the CMs present to ''personally address this problem.'' Dr Singh also suggested training to upgrade skills and capabilities of ''judicial officers and others in the legal profession.'' He spoke of Indian potential to provide world class professionals in the legal profession ''and we must aspire to do so. We, therefore, need a broad, viable national strategy for legal and judicial training that will place India firmly on the global map in the field of legal services.'' He also cited his government's initiative to introduce the Gram Nyayalayas Bill 2007 to strengthen rural capacity, envisioning ''more trial courts at the intermediate Panchayat level.'' Dr Singh said over 5,000 Nyayalayas would ''provide justice in relatively simple civil and criminal cases in rural areas'' using simpler procedures so that justice is available within 90 days.

He also mentioned efforts to promote such alternative dispute resolution ways as mediation and conciliation.

The Prime Minister stressed creating more family courts intended to help settle family disputes in a congenial atmosphere.

He noted that many State governments have failed to discharge their legal obligation to establish Family Courts in urban areas with a population of over one million.

''As a result, many litigants, hailing mostly from socially and economically weaker sections of the society, have to travel long distance to seek redressal of their grievances.'' He stressed setting up at least one Family Court in each of these 465 districts. ''I urge State governments to take prompt action in this regard.'' Citing the CJI's advice that the Central government establish an adequate number of Family Courts, Dr Singh indicated he would have the issue examined.

Saying that Indian judicial system ''is held to be one of the best court systems in the world,'' Justice Balakrishnan acknowledged however ''that the entire legal system, as it now obtains, has several limitations.'' He said ''it has to develop its capabilities and overcome limitations before it could play its rightful role in the transformation of our society in the desired direction.'' The Chief Justice said an independent and accountable judiciary is not enough to protect citizens' rights against abuses of State power. ''Adequate laws, institutional mechanisms and sufficient infrastructure are also needed.'' ''People's legal rights would remain theoretical if the institutions charged with enforcing them are not in a position to translate their dreams into reality. The excessive delays, unfair procedures, and unreasonable costs may leave the judicial machinery ineffective.'' Justice Balakrishnan said Indian courts ''play an important role for the economic growth and development.'' He cited empirical evidence that rule of law contributes to a nation's wealth and its rate of economic growth.

''When the law is weak or non-existent, the enforcement of property and contract rights frequently depends on the threat and sometimes the actuality of violence and it may retard the economic growth.'' He spoke of ''increasing concern about the problem of growing arrears of cases pending in courts. Delay made in the decision of cases at all stages inevitably leads to accumulation of arrears and this problem has reached serious dimensions.'' India's Chief justice said the delay in disposing of cases leads to ''dissatisfaction in the public mind about the effectiveness of court process for ventilating their grievances.'' Reporting the findings of the High Court Chief Justices' Conference, which ended yesterday, Justice Balakrishnan said some 59 lakh petty cases could be disposed of in a short time.

He said some Special Magistrates could be appointed and if the State is prepared to give some budgetary allocation for starting new courts, all these cases which have been pending for long could be disposed of.

A ''large number of cases registered under the Prevention of Corruption Act'' are ''also required to be disposed of at the earliest.'' This, he said, would need more Special Vigilance Courts, but funds have not been forthcoming. ''The allocation of funds for starting of new courts is not very encouraging. The budget allotment is grossly inadequate to meet the requirements of judiciary.'' Justice Balakrishnan also stressed funds to establish Evening Courts and Special Magistrate Courts.

He reminded governments that if the Courts do not dispose of cases within the reasonable time, the State would not be in a position to maintain law and order.

He also mentioned problems of large number of undertrial prisoners and paucity of forensic laboratories or public prosecutors and asked State governments to take care of these problems so ''we can reform our judicial system.'' Authorities have been warned that unless ''something'' is done about delays in justice delivery and huge case arrears, ''the whole system would get crushed under its weight.'' ''The problem of delay and huge arrears stares us all,'' Agenda Notes for delegates pointed out, warning that ''unless we can do something about it, the whole system would get crushed under its weight.

''We must guard against the system getting discredited and people losing faith in it and taking recourse to extra legal remedies with all the sinister potentialities.'' Bhardwaj spoke about high court vacancies numbering 281 in an approved strength of 877-- or roughly one in three posts vacant.

UNI

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