Union Budget 2020: Cinderella treatment once again for judiciary

A view of the Supreme Court | Photo: PTI
It was natural for everyone to anxiously look for pleasant surprises in the Union Budget. Unsurprisingly, the one segment that does not get excited from the yearly exercise is the judiciary, which has been ignored for decades. Former chief justices of India have lamented this neglect, one even wiping tears in public, pointing out that the allocation for this sector is normally around 0.2 per cent of GDP. The present Chief Justice S A Bobde and his brother judges did not speak about this curious disregard in their speeches last week in Delhi.  The head of judiciary’s main plea to the finance minister was to avoid excessive taxation, which if she did not know, resulted in social injustice.

 

While others have lobbyists, this is one arm of the state which is left to fend for itself. Even the scores of bar associations or the Bar Councils did not think of issuing a statement pointing out the need for more funds for court infrastructure; perhaps the dystopian state of affairs is good for business. Courts do not get the attention reserved for even the Railways, which until recently had a separate budget. Laws are being passed continually, without reference to the burden they cast on courts.

 

The present Union Budget grudgingly increased the allocation for the judiciary to Rs 308.61 crore.  Last year, it was Rs 296.55 crore and the year before it was Rs 258.53 crore. This appropriation provides for administrative and other expenditure and includes the provision for salaries and travel expenses of judges and staff and assorted things like security and equipment. Meanwhile, the expenses on courts went up manifold during this period with more judges appointed and more courtrooms constructed. It is still far behind the requirements. For instance, while India has six judges for one million population, Australia has 41, Canada 75, Britain 50 and the US 107.

One of the main problems faced by courts and tribunals is lack of infrastructure. However, the allocation for these facilities has gone down from last year. In 2019-2020, it was Rs 999 crore; it is Rs 762 this year. In 2018-2019, the figure was Rs 656 crore. Gram Nyalayas, which was meant to take justice to the doorsteps in remote areas, also got Cinderella treatment. The grant remained at the same level at Rs 8 crore as in 2018-2019. The fast-track special courts, which try cases like atrocities against women and corrupt politicians, also received a small increment – from Rs 140 crore in 2019-20 to Rs 150 crore for 2020-21.

 

The law ministry has several other heads of expenditure like holding elections, providing ID cards to voters and voting machines to the Election Commission. The commission also gets separate chapter on its own. The total budget of the ministry, which is Rs 2,200 crore, has to be distributed on ambitious schemes, which have made little progress over the years. E-courts are still a dream with the funds for them hovering around  Rs 250 crore over the years.  Along with it are expenditure on the National Judicial Academy  (Rs 11 crore), the National Legal Services Authority (Rs 100 crore) and the nascent New Delhi International Arbitration Centre (Rs 3 crore). The number of tribunals in different sectors and their clout has increased over the years, like the National Company Law Tribunals. But the allocation is not proportionate to it.  Tax tribunals, for instance, got Rs 172.90 crore, up from last year’s Rs 143.93 crore.

 

Many judicial fora are caught in squabbles between the Centre and state governments, each passing the buck of the fiscal burden onto the other. There is a woolly 60:40 formula, which is another point of discord. Funds for the courts come from different sources which are an arena for further spats. Even the money generated by the judiciary, like court fees, fines and deposits in financial litigation, is taken away by the government to the general Budget. State Budgets reflect the mindset of the Union’s, and the consequence is evident everywhere.

 

It is well known that the system is collapsing with the weight of  30 million cases pending in general and around 60,000 in the Supreme Court alone.  The subordinate courts are often deprived of basic facilities like water and fans. Of 665 district courts, for instance, only 266 had functional washrooms  and 100 had none for women. All these have been well documented by various judicial reports and even in judgments. The overcrowded jails accommodate more prisoners waiting for trial than actual convicts. The litany of woes never ends.

 



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