Chief Justice of India Justice N. V. Ramana on Friday received a briefing on the functioning of various High Courts and the subordinate judiciary across the country in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic in his first-ever live and direct interaction with the Chief Justices of High Courts. The interaction with the CJs of High Courts took place in batches in virtual mode spread over four different sessions on June 1 and 2.
At the outset, Justice Ramana condoled the loss of lives of many judges, advocates, judicial officers and staff due to the pandemic across the country. He complimented the CJs of HCs for taking appropriate steps to reassure the judicial fraternity in these trying times. Justice Ramana advised the CJs to factor in the prevailing conditions in their respective territories while deciding on the further course of action.
The impact of a pandemic on the functioning of the judiciary, the measures taken by the judicial administration to ensure that the wheels of justice are on the move, the innovations to tackle the challenges thrown by the pandemic, vaccination drives to keep all the stakeholders and their families safe, issues of connectivity/networking, challenges of judicial infrastructure, vacancies etc. figured prominently in the freewheeling discussion CJI Justice Ramana had with Chief Justices of High Courts.
It is gathered from the confabulations that in the wake of second wave of Covid-19 pandemic, all the High Courts have moved from hybrid mode to complete video conferencing mode and most of the Courts have rescheduled their summer vacations to minimise the suffering.
The general view that emerged was that the digital divide is impacting the functioning of the judiciary and better connectivity and network in districts, particularly in rural and tribal areas, would go a long way in enhancing the efficiency of the subordinate judiciary. One of the HCs has introduced Mobile Video Conferencing van to address this issue, at least partly.
Vaccination drives, by and large, were satisfactory in High Courts and to a certain extent in District Courts but majority of the lower courts are still awaiting their turn. Considerable degree of vaccine hesitancy is noticed across both rural and urban areas. Mobile Vaccination Centers are being contemplated by one of the HCs to reach the vaccines to Sub-Division and Tehsil level courts.
As far as infrastructure is concerned, the CJs of Bombay High Court, Punjab and Haryana High Court and Andhra Pradesh High Court have requested CJI’s intervention to get the impediments removed so as to enable to them to augment infrastructure. A few Chief Justices have also requested to get the functionaries of the Courts declared as frontline workers for the purpose of vaccination on priority.
Justice Ramana assured CJs of High Courts that their concerns on connectivity, vaccine supply and urgent issues of infrastructure that are pending will be taken up by Supreme Court Registry with the Central Government. The CJs of HCs were also assured that their request to get the functionaries of the Courts declared as frontline workers for the purpose of vaccination on priority will be taken up for consideration by authorities concerned.
Noting that poor infrastructure is proving to be a major stumbling block in delivery of justice, the CJI shared his vision for creation of National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation. Under the aegis of NJIC, comprehensive, self-contained, all-inclusive and modern Court Complexes will be built across the country to augment judicial infrastructure, it is proposed. With the lessons drawn from pandemic, necessary permanent infrastructure for video conferencing in all the courts will also need to be integrated into proposed modern court buildings, he said.
CJI wishes to take forward the national plan for judicial infrastructure on priority, after incorporating the inputs received from all the stake holders. Justice Ramana is of the firm belief that unless the infrastructure is strengthened it is unfair to expect the Courts, particularly the lower courts, to do miracles in increasing the pace of justice delivery. Both quality and quantity of justice delivery can be improved only when the support systems are strong enough to meet the challenges, the CJI observed.
Justice Ramana took this opportunity to re-emphasise the need to expedite the process of filling-up of vacancies, particularly in the High Courts. This is a follow-up to the letter he had already written to CJs of High Courts in this regard in the first week of May 2021 soon after he took over as the Chief Justice of India. The incumbent Bench strength and vacancy position in each of the High Courts was reviewed during the interaction.
Issues such as pendency of cases and functioning of judicial academies were also briefly touched upon in the interactive sessions. The Chief Justice of India has advised his Brother Judges from High Courts to make best use of the pandemic time by way of imparting quality training to judicial officers in virtual mode through judicial academies, wherever possible.
CJI Justice Ramana has assured full cooperation from the Supreme Court and proposed to interact with the CJs more frequently so that he has the benefit of updates and feedback from across the country on matters concerning functioning of the courts.