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Making Justice Easy, Accessible

In a fillip to the judiciary, a scheme for the development of infrastructure facilities has been extended for five years. This will lead to building better courts and reduce pendency.

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The Union cabinet on July 14 approved the continuation of the Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) for the development of infrastructure facilities for the judiciary for a further period of five years from April 1, 2021, to March 31, 2026.

The government’s share of the total cost of Rs 9,000 crore on the scheme will be Rs 5,357 crore, including Rs 50 crore for the implementation through the Gram Nyayalaya scheme and a national mission for justice and legal reform. The scheme will help in the construction of 3,800 court halls and 4,000 residential units (both new and ongoing projects) for judicial officers of district and subordinate courts, 1,450 lawyer halls, 1,450 toilet complexes and 3,800 digital computer rooms.

The cabinet also approved the decision to support Gram Nyayalayas by certifying recurring and non-recurring grants for a period of five years with a total outlay of Rs 50 crore. However, funds will be released to the states only after the notified Gram Nyayalayas start functioning and the Nyayadhikaris are appointed and reported on the Gram Nyayalaya portal of the justice department. After one year, it will be assessed whether the Gram Nyayalaya Yojana has successfully achieved its goal of providing speedy and affordable justice to the marginalised people in rural areas.

The CSS has been in operation since 1993-94. The provision of adequate judicial infrastructure is important to reduce pendency and arrears of cases in courts. While the primary responsibility for infrastructure development for the subordinate judiciary rests with state governments, the centre through CSS provides resources to them for the construction of court buildings and residential quarters for judicial officers in all states and Union Territories (UTs).

From the inception of the scheme till 2014, the centre provided only Rs 3,444 crore to states and UTs for it. In contrast, the present government has sanctioned Rs 5,200 crore during the last seven years, which is about 60 percent of the total funds given so far. It will greatly help as many courts are still functioning in rented premises with insufficient space and some are in a dilapidated condition due to lack of basic facilities. Lack of residential facilities to all judicial officers also adversely affects their functioning and performance. Good infrastructure will improve the functioning of the judiciary and will be a new step towards building better courts for a new India. It will reduce pendency and arrears of cases in the courts.

Uttar Pradesh Law Minister Brajesh Pathak said that with this effort of the prime minister, justice will be accessible to the person standing on the last rung. He said that with the expansion of this scheme, common people in a big state like Uttar Pradesh will get special benefits.

Other government schemes are the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, etc. After World War II, the centre along with provincial governments embarked on developmental projects. These received central assistance in the form of grants that were called post-war development grants. As the exact distribution of financial liability had not been decided by the time of the First Five Year Plan, many schemes which should have found place in the state sector were included in the central sector. At that point in time, there was no clear criterion for distribution of central assistance to states.

In 1968, the National Development Council Committee recommended a cap on the value of centrally sponsored schemes to 1/6th of central plan assistance to states. The number of CSS increased from 45 in 1969 to 190 at the end of the Fifth Five Year Plan. At the time of the Sixth Five Year Plan, 72 CSS were transferred to states.

In 1985, a new committee was constituted under the chairmanship of Narasimha Rao, minister of human resource development. This was due to an expert group saying that the existing CSS/new CSS was too broad and fulfilment of an important national objective was essential.

The recommendations of the Narasimha Rao Committee were submitted in 1988. It recommended transfer of 113 CSS to states with a combined Seventh Five Year Plan outlay of Rs 1,260.75 crore. The issue of transfer of CSS to states along with resources again came up for discussion in the 47th NDC meeting held in January 1997. By the last year of the Ninth Five Year Plan, the total number of schemes had increased to 360, accounting for about 60 percent of central assistance.

On the recommendation of the 51st NDC meeting, the Planning Commission set up an expert group in October 2005 under the chairmanship of Arvind Varma, ex-Secretary, Government of India, to develop concrete proposals for restructuring the CSS in consultation with the ministries/departments concerned.

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The Planning Commission, through an order dated April 5, 2011, constituted a sub-committee under the chairmanship of BK Chaturvedi, Member, Planning Commission, to look into the restructuring of CSS to enhance its flexibility, scale and efficiency. The Commission on June 20, 2013, announced that it would reduce the number of centrally sponsored schemes by merging them, thereby resulting in a total of 66 CSS.

Currently, there are 29 CSS. These are broadly divided into two categories—core of the core schemes and core schemes. Reduction in the schematic grants be­came a force majeure for the government because of reduction in its fiscal space. This was due to higher devolution of funds recommended by the Fourteenth Finance Commission.

But all is not hunky dory. In 2014, on an average, around 42,000 grievances were received every month on Centralised Public Grievance Redress and Monitoring System and in the Prime Minister’s Office.

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal News Service

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