|Following is the text of the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s address at the joint conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices in New Delhi, today:
“This conference is in many ways a unique opportunity for interaction between the Judiciary and the Executive at the highest levels to find ways and means of moving forward in our collective task and endeavour of building a strong justice delivery system in our country. This is a task of vital national significance that deserves our urgent attention. It has been four years since a similar conference was last held. During this interval, the need for speedy and affordable justice has come into sharper focus.
Before I proceed further, please allow me to compliment our Supreme Court and the High Courts for their sterling contribution in giving form and content to the idea of justice enshrined in our constitution. The Supreme Court’s declaration of non-discrimination, social justice, inclusion and an irrevocable commitment to civil liberties as the sheet anchor of the Constitutional conscience has made a transformative contribution in the shaping of our society and national conscience. By regarding Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy as a charter of legal empowerment, the Supreme Court has repeatedly vindicated its role as the guardian of our Constitutional values and ideals.
Access to justice through empowerment of its citizens is the defining measure of a progressive nation and a just society. We must therefore, collectively ensure that our laws deliver on the state’s duty to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and that the disadvantaged are not excluded from the processes that advance the cause of justice. At the same time, we need to ensure that the laws that govern the daily lives of our citizens are certain, stable and reasonable.
At a time when the demand for judicial reforms and change in the legal processes has acquired a new urgency, we must ensure that the voice of sanity and logic is not suborned to the momentary impulses of the day. Fundamental and time tested principles of law and natural justice must not be compromised to satiate the shrill rhetoric that often defines our political discourse and sometimes succeeds in drowning appeals to logic and justice.
The national outrage at the recent horrific tragedy of gang rape in Delhi compels an urgent introspection about our laws and justice delivery system but we must not allow ourselves to be overcome by a sense of despair at some of the demonstrated inadequacies of our legal system. On its part, our Government has moved with expedition to respond to the felt sensitivities of the people in the aftermath of this gruesome tragedy of Delhi and have brought about significant amendments in the criminal law to effectively deal with heinous offences against women. I must thank the Judiciary for establishing special courts for fast tracking trial of offences against women. But, notwithstanding the steps that have already been taken, a great deal more needs to be done as far as offences against women are concerned. I am happy that one of the issues on the agenda of your conference is sensitization of the Judiciary on gender issues.
I am conscious of the enormity of the task we face in reducing the backlog of cases and increasing the pace at which trials take place. Presently, over 3 crore cases are pending in various courts across the country and 26 percent of them are over 5 years old. The Vision Statement and Action Plan adopted by the Chief Justices’ Conference in October 2009 had identified two major goals for judicial reform -increasing access to justice by reducing delays and arrears in the justice delivery system, and enhancing accountability through structural changes and by setting performance standards and capacities. It had also identified 9 initiatives for immediate implementation. I understand that some of these initiatives have since been implemented and others are being driven actively. While the Government has set up the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms in the Department of Justice for pursuing the objective of reducing the pendency of cases in our courts, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India has established the National Court Management Systems (NCMS) which will develop a National Framework of Court Excellence (NFCE). This framework will lay down timelines and measurable standards of performance for courts on the touchstone of quality. Besides, I have been informed that, a Case Management System (CMS) will also be developed to establish user friendliness of our judicial processes.
I agree fully with Hon’ble Chief Justice Shri Altmas Kabir that we need to significantly enhance the number of judges to administer justice. The judge to population ratio at the current level of 15.5 judges per million population is indeed grossly inadequate. We need to alter this equation so as to address the problems of pendency and delays in disposal of cases. However, the initiative in this must come from our State Governments. I would urge all Chief Ministers to extend their full support to this important initiative. On behalf of the Central Government, I would like to assure this august gathering that we would increase appropriately the quantum of funding for the scheme under which we provide support to the State Governments for the creation of infrastructure for subordinate Judiciary.
We will engage with the 14th Finance Commission for devolution of funds to the State Governments specifically for the judicial sector. In addition, we will request the Commission to earmark funds for establishing fast-track courts for speedy trials not just in cases involving heinous crimes but also those in which offences have been committed against the vulnerable people like the elderly, women and children.
I am happy that the Judiciary and the Executive have worked together in making significant progress to invest courts with the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) capabilities. The Central Government, the State Governments, and the High Courts are working in close coordination for up-gradation of the ICT infrastructure in the Supreme Court, the High Courts as well as provisioning for ICT in the 14,249 district and subordinate courts. A National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) will be an important outcome of this project and it will provide a unique platform for accessing judicial statistics on pendency on a real time basis across the country. It will provide information to people on cases and will bring about an improvement in the working of courts through better case handling and case management. The National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) has the potential to transform the working of the lower judiciary and to bring about major improvements in the delivery of justice to our people.
The long pending proposal for the constitution of All India Judicial Services has made some headway after it was discussed for the first time in the conference of 2009. I learn that the subject will be considered in this conference. I hope that in the deliberations that follow a consensus will emerge on the way forward.
There are other important issues that you have on your agenda including the strengthening of legal aid services, promotion of Alternate Dispute Redressal mechanisms and operationalization of Gram Nyayalayas. Progress in these areas will assist us in moving towards our goal of providing expeditious and affordable justice to the common man, especially the poor and the vulnerable.
In conclusion, I am confident that our chosen path of development, based on fast, inclusive and sustainable growth, will, over time, reduce disparities and ensure a life of dignity for all. In an imperfect world, the ideal state of justice may seem distant. But, the test of a just arrangement lies in its ability to promote dignity and self respect of all the citizens, strengthen the bonds of human solidarity and encourage the creativity of the individual. Our endeavours to secure a more just order must continue ceaselessly. This conference should be seen as a step in that noble direction.
With these words, I congratulate the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India and my colleague, Dr. Ashwani Kumar for taking the initiative to organise this Conference. I wish your deliberations all success.”
(Release ID :94523)