The core idea of justice lies in the decisions based on moral rights, equality, rationality and fairness. The responsibility of providing justice to the citizens of the country in a time-bound manner rests on the shoulders of the judiciary of the country. In India, the apex role in providing justice is played by the Chief Justice of India- CJI; He is also called the ‘Master of the Roster’ of the judiciary.
Recently, After the retirement of former CJI Justice S.A. Bobde, the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, Justice N. V. Ramana has been sworn in as the 48th Chief Justice of India. He has taken over as CJI at a time when India is going through a major crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In such a situation, there are many challenges ahead for the newly appointed CJI.
Challenges in front of Indian Judiciary
The Supreme Court has failed to fulfil its obligations not only as a defender of fundamental and other constitutional rights but as a protector of the rule of law.Many times in the context of politically sensitive cases involving citizens, opposition parties and activists, the Court transferred these matters to the executive instead of restoring constitutional rights and values.
Another big issue for the Indian judiciary is the shortage of Judges. There are 20 judges per million population in India, while in other countries the number is around 50-70 on average. According to the figures, 40% of vacancies are pending in the courts. Posts in the judiciary are not filled as fast as required. For a country with a population of 135 crores, the total number of judges is only around 25000. About 400 posts are vacant in the High Courts and about 35% posts in the lower judiciary.
The statistics related to the pending cases in the High Courts are quite worrisome. More than 57 lakh cases are pending in court.
Another challenge in front of the judiciary is the inadequate representation of women and minorities. Although there has been a considerable increase in gender-based cases in the country and almost half of the population of women in the country, there is currently only one woman judge in the Supreme Court.At present, there is only one Muslim judge in the Supreme Court, while there is no representative of Sikh, Buddhist, Jain or tribal community as a judge in the court.
The Indian Judiciary is also known for the delay in judgements. Although the problem of delay in the judicial process is well known, yet no special efforts have been made to understand the nuances of this problem and solve it.
Challenges before the new CJI
The biggest challenge is conducting the court work during the unprecedented crisis that currently exists due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hearings in courts have to be done digitally while it has been criticized by lawyers due to technical problems.
Around 13 posts will be vacant during the tenure of Justice Ramana in the Supreme Court. Filling these posts will be a tedious task for the new CJI.
However, the biggest challenge will be to streamline the appointment process in the Supreme Court as well as the High Courts which are struggling with a large number of pending cases due to a shortage of judges.
What needs to be done?
Just as the legislature and executive derives its power from the people and the constitution.The judiciary derives its power from the constitution. Therefore, the people of a country with a population of more than one billion need courts to protect their rights.
The collegium system of the 5 senior-most judges in the Supreme Court should work in a more transparent manner and should be made more accountable for promoting confidence in the judiciary.
Moreover,the new Chief Justice should closely review the actions of his predecessors and take concrete steps to revive the judicial system, free from bias in allotting cases to the benches. Only after this, the rule of law will be restored and the constitution will be complied with in a true sense.
However, the utmost priority should be filling up the vacancies quickly without any unnecessary delay.A proper time frame should be set for the appointment of judges and recommendations should be made in advance.
There is a provision of All India Judicial Services in the constitution and hence steps should be taken in the direction of its formation. This will certainly help in establishing a better judicial system in India.
While keeping up the principle of equality, women and minority communities should get fair representation in the Supreme and High Courts.It is the duty of the collegium to give adequate representation to all sections of society to diversify the benches so that public confidence, which is the greatest strength of the judiciary, can be maintained.
The CJI is responsible for maintaining public confidence in the judiciary by providing justice to the people of India without any condition, bias and delay. Apart from the challenges inside the court, the biggest challenge outside the court is the increasing transmission of COVID-19.
There has always been a need for a judicial system, where there is an unbiased examination of the evidence and witnesses, where analysis of the must be fair and there should be no delay in the judicial process.
The collegium system of the Supreme Court should deal with vacancies and pendency of cases expeditiously, paying special attention to the appointment of judges.