The Bar Councils of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, as well as Karnataka have written to Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu as well as Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, requesting that the long-awaited Supreme Court bench in the south be established. The team, which included Telangana State Bar Council chairman A. Narasimha Reddy, Andhra Pradesh Bar Council Chief G. Rama Rao, Tamil Nadu Bar Council chief P.S. Amal Raj, Karnataka Bar chief L. Srinivasa Babu, Kerala BC chief K.N Anil Kumar, as well as ex-MLC N. Ramchander Rao, met both officials in Delhi and displayed a memorandum emphasizes the importance of such a step as well as highlighting the benefits.
So many standing committees of Parliament, law commissions, bar councils, and many others have made numerous representations in this context over years. The Law Commission suggested in 2009 that a Constitution Bench with seven judges be established in Delhi, as well as four cassation Benches with four to six judges per each Chennai/Hyderabad, Mumbai, as well as Kolkata. These were to serve as appellate courts for decisions made by the Supreme Court.
PENDENCY OF CASES – A HURDLE
They contended that, given the 65,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court, urgent initiatives such as the establishment of permanent regional Apex Court centres for the north, south, east, as well as west at Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, and Mumbai were urgently needed to provide people with reachable and timely justice. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected almost every facet of India’s social and economic system, and thus the judiciary is no exception. Since March 2020, the courts have not functioned with a full workload on the whole. As a consequence, when the March 2020 lockdown was announced, there were 3.68 crore cases throughout all tiers, which has now increased to 4.42 crore.
The delays and shortfalls caused by overburdened Indian courts have long been a source of worry, and they exemplify the adage that “justice delayed is justice denied.” Thus, if judicial reforms are taken more seriously, swift and effective justice could be achieved.
The Supreme Court of India, as well, served mainly as a constitutional court in the early days of the Republic, with around 70-80 judgments given annually by Constitution Benches of five or more judges who settled on issues “encompassing a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of [the] Constitution,” as per Article 145(3) of the Constitution. This range is now between 10 and 12 people. Judges usually sit in two- or three-judge Benches to deal with a variety of cases, including many non-Constitutional as well as fairly small matters such as film restrictions (or lifting of bans) or accusations that a Police commissioner is abusing his authority, due to their heavy amount of work. Even PILs requesting that Sardar jokes are banned or Muslims be expelled from the country have been heard by the Supreme Court on the event.
The fact that India’s Supreme Court is possibly the most powerful in the world, with a vast authority, explains the high workload. It hears cases involving the Centre as well as states, as well as cases involving two or more states; its regulations on civil and criminal appeals; and it recommends the President on legal and factual issues. Anyone can bring a case to the Supreme Court directly if they believe their fundamental rights have been violated. As a consequence, the Supreme Court is currently hearing over 65,000 cases, with appeals taking years to resolve. Several cases involving five or seven judges interpreting the Constitution were pending for years.
“Everyone should be able to access the Supreme Court regardless of their location. The precise location of the court in the far north was hastily convened. We can fix the inaccessibility problem by erecting SC benches on three additional sides, or at the very least on the southern side, to start with, we won’t be able to close the digital divide by going online. Besides the language divide between the south as well as the north, the climate is also a factor. Another factor that must legitimize a separate bench is culture. The closeness to culture Northern clients is more likely to rush to the supreme court than others. The discrepancy is visible when looking at the geographical credentials of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) or other groups created by the apex court on its own to analyze numerous issues. To evaluate the representation of the south, everyone should look at the geographical backgrounds of the heads of judicial tribunals in the capital. The need for a bench in the south is both pressing and timely.” – Justice A Ramalingeswara Rao, former judge of the common high court at Hyderabad for the states of AP and Telangana.
“For our people, Delhi is very far away and also too expensive. The distance between AP and Delhi is 1,506 kilometres, 2,073 kilometres from Karnataka, 2,574 kilometres from Kerala, 2,118 kilometres from Tamil Nadu, and 1,525 kilometres from Telangana. Several Law Commission reports have suggested that establishing SC benches in all four regions of the country is an efficient way to improve justice more available to the general public. In his 2009 report, Law Commission Chairman Justice A R Lakshmanan recommended that the Supreme Court’s main seat in Delhi should maintain cases of constitutional importance and assign all other cases to SC benches in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, or Hyderabad. It would be more central to AP, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, as well as Karnataka if it had been located in Tirupati. Justice Lakshmanan had even proposed a constitutional amendment for the intent, referring to them as the western, eastern, as well as southern benches.
Due to a lack of connectivity to the Supreme Court, only 1% of appeals from the entire south of India are now filed in the SC. When compared to Delhi’s 9.3%, Uttaranchal and Punjab’s 5% each, and even a small state like Himachal Pradesh’s 3% preference for appeals, the point becomes clearer. With their vast land area and population, southern states cannot even connect 1%.”
- Rama Rao, Chairman, AP Bar council
The 125th report of the Law Commission stated, “The Supreme Court sits alone in New Delhi.” The Indian government has sought the Supreme Court’s opinion on establishing branches in the south on several occasions. The Supreme Court did not agree with this proposal. As a consequence, those travelling from far-flung locations such as Tamil Nadu in the south, Gujarat in the west, and Assam and other states in the east must spend a significant amount of money on travel to access the Supreme Court. “An adjournment becomes unaffordable.” Hence Geographical difficulty is of the utmost importance.
Furthermore, litigating in the Supreme Court is costly, with the cost directly proportional to the distance the litigant is from Delhi, as the expenditure includes not only the expense of an advocate’s fee but also the cost of travel and lodging to and from Delhi on hearing days. The estimated cost of filing an SLP with the Supreme Court is in the neighbourhood of Rs.50,000. As a result, the have-nots’ availability to the Supreme Court is rapidly dwindling. Shifting to the Supreme Court is a laborious thought for lawyers, especially those from southern or eastern states, due to the language barrier and living costs.
The formation of Supreme Court Permanent Regional Benches (PRB) is the answer to these difficulties and will increase access to the Supreme Court at Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, as well as Mumbai for the north, south, east, as well as west zones. It’s neither a reactionary nor a novel concept. The framers of the Constitution foresaw the need for Supreme Court benches to be established outside Delhi. As a result, Article 130 of the Constitution states that the Chief Justice of India could have the Supreme Court’s seat in Delhi or at another location with the President’s authorization.
The country’s population has increased by more than fourfold since the Constitution was enacted, and the Supreme Court’s docket has increased by about 10,000 times, but this power is still to be practised. But it isn’t for a lack of trying. The implementation of PRBs has been a long-standing demand from litigants as well as the legal profession. This issue has also been brought up by the people’s representatives in Parliament on several occasions. In 2004, 2005, and 2006, Parliament’s standing committees suggested that PRBs be established. A simplified way to break the impasse between the judiciary as well as the legislature is for Parliament to amend Article 130 to require the Supreme Court’s PRB to be established in each of the four locations. P Wilson, a DMK MP, already has presented a private member’s bill in the Rajya Sabha for this reason. We could only wish that Parliament takes the lead in establishing PRBs so that connectivity to justice will not become a privilege reserved for the wealthy.
Author’s Name: Rathod Arun Kumar (HPNLU, Shimla)