By Prabhakar Kulkarni
The highest judiciary in the country is now entangled by the HC judge versus SC judges’ controversy and the media in the country is also harping on the same, thereby neglecting the basic need of justice to be made available to common man. Judicial reforms are delayed since Independence and now even after three years Modi government has not yet accorded priority to the issue.
The Supreme Court and High Courts are known for their various decisions in due consideration of welfare of people in India. The principles of right to justice and ‘justice at doorsteps,’ periodically proclaimed on political and judicial platforms are also in larger public interest. But when justice will be available at doorsteps? That is the question. The expected decentralization of justice administration is pending even though it is purely in interest of people located in our large country and in varied locations in various states.
The British legacy has influenced our governance system which is not changed even sixty nine years after Independence. We have not yet considered what is suitable and convenience for our large number of people. The concentration of justice system is one of the neglected issues which have been haunting Indian litigants as also advocates who represent them in lower courts, high courts and supreme court. That the Supreme Court should be located in national capital only and high courts in state capitals is in accordance with the British rulers’ expectation and convenience
But in view of vital changes and the media expansion in the country people at the district level and in rural areas are being informed and their grievances are voiced in newspapers. This is because newspaper’s network in the country is now so widespread that almost every district has its own newspaper and that too equipped with new modern machinery and expertise so much so that they are almost competing with regional and national newspapers. Most of the national newspapers are published in English or Hindi while regional newspapers are published in respective regional languages. Even the national and regional newspapers have been publishing their regional and district editions and are covering various issues with in-depth analysis and investigative penetration.
These district editions are almost equal to the state capital-based dailies and periodicals and are now gaining the same status which they have in state capitals. Even the original district newspapers in regional languages have geared up to a better standard in order to compete with the new editions of the state-based dailies.
These district newspapers and editions are concentrating on major issues which are in public interest. Delay and corruption in administration, injustice done to people in general and neglected families in particular, economic crimes which harass people and dupe them, irregularities in nationalized and co-operative banking sector, farmers plight and hoarding of essential commodities by middlemen, failure of decentralized Panchayat Raj system due to non-cooperative attitude of the bureaucracy and similar variety of issues are periodically covered in these district newspapers
The important public issues and injustice done to people are taken up by the judicial system and vigilant judges for ‘suo moto’ public interest litigation (PIL). But at present such PIL can be filed only in High Court or in the Supreme Court. The PIL is a right given to the socially conscious member or a public spirited NGO to espouse a public cause by seeking judicial means for redressal. Injustice may arise from breach of public duty or due to a violation of some provision of the Constitution.
The PIL is the device by which public participation in judicial review of administrative action is assured. It has the effect of making the judicial process little more democratic. In almost in all Indian States, lethargy, inefficiency and corruption in government departments have been a nuisance which large numbers of people in this country are facing and no state government has so far been able to eradicate them from the corridors of their administrative offices.
As under the Indian Constitution the PIL is to be heard at the level of High Courts or the Supreme Court and not the district courts, a constitutional amendment is necessary so that even district courts are allowed to conduct cases under the PIL. When the constitutional provision was made at the initial stage most of the national newspapers were based in state capitals and it was quite reasonable that the High Courts were expected to consider cases for PIL litigation only on basis of news reports published in these newspapers. But now as most of the national newspapers are spread over regions and districts with their editions more public grievances are reported by way of news and investigative newsletters. It is therefore necessary that the district courts should be empowered to initiate ‘suo moto’ public interest litigation in public interest.
While the district courts are competent enough to hear PIL cases, advocates or members of the district bar associations are also well-equipped with legal acumen and knowledge so much so that they will conduct the argumentative aspect of such cases with expertise and ease which is seen in High Courts. It is therefore high time that the necessary amendment is made in the Indian Constitution for empowering district courts to hear PIL, so that the district judges will take note of public grievances published in newspapers and take up the vital issues under the ‘suo moto’ PIL.
It is now high time that the relevant amendment is made so that judiciary at the district level would take initiative in accepting the PIL which is one way to let people get justice in vital public issues and one aspect of ‘justice at doorsteps’ will be realized.