As rightly put by the 48th Chief Justice of the country- “If we want a different outcome from the judicial system, we cannot continue to work in these circumstances. An integral aspect, in this regard, is financial autonomy of the judiciary.” The Judiciary of our nation is one of the three legs of the metaphorical table of the Indian Democracy, each just as important as the others. Our constitutional framework has always strived to maintain a separation of power and an independent exercise of authority for each of the three- the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judiciary. One of the prerequisites to having functional independence is having a certain extent of financial autonomy. Even when, scattered all over the world, are countries striving for more separation of power and autonomy for the distinct state powers, there still exists a certain dependence of Courts on the legislature or the executive, for funds and budget allocations. The fact that other legs of the State have ‘power over the penny’, is bad news for all the parties invested in the cause of independent and fair functioning, especially of the Judiciary.
WHERE DO WE STAND?
The current circumstances surrounding the finances of the Judiciary are absolutely troubling. The most important of all issues is the fact that only about 8%-9% of the total funding of the courts is sponsored by the Central Government, the rest 92% is provided by the State Governments. This is probably one of the reasons behind the countless disparities that continue to exist and grow in the Indian Courts System. For starters, there exists a glaring disparity in the budget allocated towards Judiciary, between different states. For instance, Delhi allocates 2.69% towards Judiciary, while West Bengal’s allocation stands at a mere 0.33% of its budget. This directly results in a difference in the per case budget between states, as well as disparities in the growth in the annual allocations of overall funds. Besides the aforementioned, issues like favourable allocation towards the higher judiciary and meagre funding of the subordinate courts, which, are more frequented by the general populace than the higher courts, also exist. Even if the disparities are dealt with, the overall combined average budget allocation by the State and Central Governments, towards Judiciary, is a mere 0.4% of the budget. As a result of this, countless subordinate courts have buildings in debilitated conditions, a shortage of courtrooms, and so on. Even when funds are passed or made available, due to the lack of an appropriate body, most of it remains unutilized. For instance, in the year 2019-2020, a disappointingly astonishing percentage, that is, 91.36% of the total fund allocated towards developmental works in the Judiciary, under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme, remained unutilized.
WHAT ALL HAS CHANGED WITH THE 2022-23 BUDGET?
Despite several demands by the members of the Legal Fraternity, no such dedicated body has been formed to undertake the task of allocating appropriate funding to various courts. In fact, the demand for a National Judicial Infrastructure Authority of India (NJIAI) was recently put forward by the CJI himself. Today, most of the funds come directly from the respective state governments and the remaining, by the central government, which results in irregularities and disparities of all kinds. A centralized body, as suggested, could prove to be instrumental in ameliorating the issues. In the year 2021, a sum of ₹9000cr was dedicated to the infrastructural development of the judiciary, ₹5,357 out of this, is supposed to be paid by the Central Government, and the rest is to be covered by the respective states. In furtherance of this project, a sum of ₹858.59cr has been allocated in Budget 2022-23, this is ₹80cr+ higher than the ₹784cr allocated in the FY 2021-22. Apart from this, a sum of ₹3,393.48 has been provided to the Ministry of Law and Justice. Evidently, the Budget 2022-23 could have been used to remedy past ignorance of the Judiciary, but was not. Even though comparatively increased funding has been provided, due to the lack of an appropriate responsible body, appropriate allocation, and a wise utilization might not happen.
WHAT COULD BE DONE?
The National Judicial Infrastructure Authority of India, or any other body on the same lines, could be established. This can become the appellate authority under which various sub-authorities can be entrusted with specific objectives. For instance, a specialized body can be established and entrusted with the task of calculating the appropriate costs associated with various projects undertaken towards Judicial Development, as well as of regular and recurring expenses. This body could either be independent of the legislative members or could function in synergy with it, having representatives from both the arenas of the state. The allocation of funds is usually done on the basis of historical costs, with an increment in the overall budget every year or so. A more systematic approach could be adopted to do the same allocation, that is, a ‘Performance-based Budgeting Systems’. Such a system of budgeting can prove to be more accountable and transparent. It could also aid in effective target setting and the efficient achieving of the desired goals. However, like everything under the sun, this system too should be used with certain measures of caution. For instance, it should always be kept into consideration that an overload of cases can be caused due to the excessive emphasis on targets and efficiency. Also, both qualitative and quantitative results should be analyzed for the purpose of budgeting.
The Indian Court system happens to be one of the largest in the world. Currently, there are approximately 4,11,36,290 cases in the district courts. While a lot of research is yet to be done to establish a direct relationship between the lack of financial autonomy and the quality and fairness of case trials, it is undeniable that a certain degree of financial independence would do good for our justice system. However, it must be kept in mind that an excess of financial autonomy might backfire by giving the judiciary, the space to exploit the tax-payers’ money and evade accountability for its performance. A balanced approach towards the possible solutions must be kept to tackle the circumstances surrounding our Judicial System and the question of its Financial Autonomy.
Author(s) Name: Vatsala (National Law University, Odisha)
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