Vice President calls for the establishment of more Supreme Court benches;

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The Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu has called for the expansion of Supreme Court and the establishment of more benches in different parts of the country, as per the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, to put an end to the inconvenience caused to litigants who travel long distances and spend a huge amount of money and energy to access justice. Saying that Election petitions and criminal cases against political leaders must be decided quickly by special benches of higher courts in a time-bound manner, Shri Naidu called for setting up of separate benches to expedite such cases within six months or one year.

Shri Naidu also called upon the three limbs of the state, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary to work together and inspire synergy to ensure all-round development of the nation. He opined that these organs of the state perform their duties best when they don’t transgress into each other’s territory.

Speaking after launching the book ‘Rethinking Good Governance’, authored by the former Comptroller Auditor General (CAG), Shri Vinod Rai, in New Delhi today, the Vice President said that decentralization of powers and responsibilities to local bodies must be implemented more efficiently and asserted that funds, functions, and functionaries must be transferred to these institutions. “This will bring governance closer to people and enhance its credibility and effectiveness,” he added

Opining that the welfare of the common man must be the enduring theme of our vision for transforming India, Shri Naidu said that it was the pious responsibility of all to ensure that the fruits of democratic good governance reaches everyone, especially the ones who are at the farthest end of the development spectrum.

Stating that India was surging forward, fuelled by its vibrant economy and aided by a stable and progressive government, Shri Naidu stressed that India’s far-reaching and path-breaking reforms must be further accelerated by citizen-centric, technology-oriented, robust, transparent, responsive, flexible and adaptable good governance practices.

Pointing out that the three important functions of legislatures were legislative, deliberative and accountability, the Vice President said that while some legislative bodies were functioning well, in many of them, there was certainly considerable room for improvement.

Saying that the constitution has vested the Parliament with sufficient instruments through which it could enforce accountability of the government, Shri Naidu said that the efficacy of these instruments could only be as good as the Parliamentarians and political parties who deploy them.

Observing that the role played by an effective opposition in a Parliamentary democracy could never be undermined, Shri Nadu said that it was up to the opposition to hold the government to account and to provide constructive criticisms and meaningful interventions in the legislative process as and when necessary. “Disrupting proceeding of the house is not the way forward,” he added.

Saying that today’s enlightened citizenry, especially the youth was watching actions of Parliamentarians very closely and questioning their actions, motives, and attitudes within and outside the House, Shri Naidu asked Parliamentarians to always be mindful and respectful of the aspirations of the common man and advised them to carry on with rectitude and propriety, serving as model citizens of the country.

“We need legislators who are well informed and well intentioned and capable of articulating a well-presented viewpoint, not those who are eager to rush to the well of the House,” he said.

The Vice President asked political parties to adopt a code of conduct for their legislators and contribute to policymaking through informed decisions. He wanted Political parties to carefully choose candidates based upon their capacity, calibre, and good conduct and said that they must rise above the narrow considerations of caste and religion that seek to divide the society.

Calling for the need to constantly evaluate governance strategies and its outcomes, Shri Naidu advised policymakers to be flexible and open enough to bring about course corrections whenever necessary.

He wanted them to accord priority to the quality of service delivery on all programs and schemes and ensure that the intended benefits of a programme must reach the people in time.

Expressing concern over the heavy pendency of cases in various courts in the country, the Vice President suggested reforming the system to eliminate judicial delays and also to improve its efficiency. 

Pointing that a number of civil and criminal cases have been pending for over 25 years, the Vice President  said that there was a need for division of the Supreme Court into a Constitution Bench at Delhi and Cassation benches in four regions – Delhi, Chennai / Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai, as suggested the Law Commission

Expressing his agreement with the suggestions made by the Chief Justice of India to improve the functioning of the judiciary, he said that increasing the retirement age of high court judges and making tenure appointments to clear the backlog were pragmatic solutions.

Along with the author of the book, Shri Vinod Rai, Prof.  C. Raja Mohan, the Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore, Shri Shakti Sinha, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library and Shri Kapish Mehra, Managing Director, Rupa Publications India were also present at the occasion.

Following is the text of Vice President’s address:

“It gives me great pleasure to release Shri Vinod Rai’s book, Rethinking Good Governance, an important and timely analysis of India’s public institutions that reflect our national character.

I congratulate Shri Rai for presenting his profound insights on various institutions in a brilliantly lucid, keenly observant, steadfastly honest and finely balanced manner.

The book offers a scholarly analysis of the country’s key accountability agencies whose functions underpin and affect all facets of life in India.

Shri Rai has rightly pointed out that the vital bond between people and the government is that of trust and that public institutions are the custodians of that trust.

Shri Rai begins by making a profound statement.

He says that ‘accountability institutions script the destiny of nations’. I tend to agree with this statement.

Accountability institutions support good governance which promotes sustainable development and welfare of the people. It has also been proven beyond doubt that economic development efforts cannot be sustained over time without good governance platforms that can foster and nurture them.

He emphasizes upon the need for Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI) to shift from the conventional audit of public expenditure to public accountability and calls upon the civil service to be more professional and responsive.

Through his astute commentary presented in the book, Shri Rai focused on institutions such as the Parliament, the Supreme Court, Election Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General, Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Information Commission, among others.

Leveraging his long and distinguished innings in public life, he has done a commendable job of proposing a reform agenda, suggesting how the credibility of these institutions,once eroded, can be restored.

My dear sisters and brothers,

Today, India is surging forward, fuelled by its vibrant economy, supported by its scientific and technological progress, aided and abetted by the energy of its burgeoning youth population and helmed by a stable and progressive government.

The Prime Minister’s zeal for reforms, reflected in his mantra of “Reform Perform and Transform”, has given a new impetus to the transformational development of our country.

Today we dream of being a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25.

Reaching this lucrative goal would call for nothing short of the combined and united efforts of the government, the public institutions and the civil society.

The far-reaching and path breaking reforms must be further accelerated through citizen- centric, technology-oriented, robust, transparent, responsive, flexible and adaptable good governance practices.

As we step into the 73rd year of independence, it is crucial that we ponder on the current situation of our three state organs– the legislature, the executive and the judiciary–and see how we can further strengthen these three pillars.

Throughout my long and rewarding career as a Parliamentarian, I have always maintained that parliamentary democracy is all about ensuring governance through accountability to the people.

In fact, the three important functions of legislatures are legislative, deliberative and accountability.

While some legislative bodies are functioning well, in many of them, there is certainly considerable room for improvement.

The constitution has vested the Parliament with sufficient instruments through which it can enforce accountability of the government. However, efficacy of these instruments can only be as good as the parliamentarians and political parties who deploy them.

The role played by an effective opposition in a Parliamentary democracy can never be undermined.

It is up to the opposition to hold the government to account and to provide constructive criticisms and meaningful interventions in the legislative process as and when necessary.

Disrupting proceeding of the house is not the way forward.

Shri Rai points out in the book that during the 11th Lok Sabha (1996-97), barely 5.2% of the time was lost due to disruptions but in the 13th Lok Sabha (1994-2004), 18.9% of the time was lost and that figure rose to 19.6% in the 14th Lok Sabha (2004-2009).

The 15th Lok Sabha saw an appalling 39% of its time lost to disruptions. This is a truly distressing trend and must not be allowed to continue under any circumstance.

As I have repeatedly emphasized in my public speeches, I would like legislators across the country to ‘discuss, debate and decide’ not ‘disrupt’.

We must realize that today’s enlightened citizenry, especially the youth, are watching actions of Parliamentarians very closely and questioning their actions, motives and attitudes not only within the House but outside as well.

Parliamentarians must always be mindful and respectful of the aspirations of the common man and carry on with rectitude and propriety, serving as model citizens of the country.

There is also general perception that the quality of debates in Parliament has been declining. We need legislators who are well informed and well intentioned and capable of articulating a well presented viewpoint, not those who are eager to rush to the well of the House.

I also hope that all political parties will adopt a code of conduct for their legislators and contribute to policy making through informed decisions.

Political parties must also very carefully choose candidates based upon their capacity, calibre and good conduct and rise above the narrow considerations of caste and religion that seek to divide the society.

It is indeed a matter of great concern that the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranked Indian 153 out of 190 nations in the proportion of women in Parliament. We must take special care to ensure that the parliament is a truly representational body and give more prominence to increasing the number of women parliamentarians and parliamentarians from other marginalized sections.

My dear sisters and brothers,

India is undergoing a rapid transformation.

A number of progressive policy interventions, legislations and programs from ‘Beti Baachao Beti Padao’ to the implementation of ‘Goods and Services tax’, from the striking down of ‘Triple Talaq’ to the implementation of ‘Ayushman Bharat’, touted to be the world’s largest free healthcare scheme, India is undergoing a 360-degree transformation.

Visionary programs such as ‘Swachh Bharat’, ‘Make-in-India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Start-up India’, ‘Skill India’ has put India on a path of rapid reforms.

All these initiatives will give results only when they are built on strong foundations of a robust governance system.

Making laws and policies is only a part of the story. Implementing and executing them is a more crucial aspect of governance.

Designing programmes intelligently, funding them sustainably, monitoring their implementation consistently and evaluating their outcomes scientifically is the crux of good governance.

We need to constantly evaluate our governance strategies and its outcomes and be flexible and open enough to bring about course corrections whenever necessary.

There should be no gap between policy intent and policy implementation. The intended benefits of a programme must reach the people in time. The quality of service delivery is an area that needs more attention than what is being done today.

We must ensure that the fruits of democratic good governance reach everyone, especially the ones who are at the farthest end of the development spectrum.

Results based management should become the norm.

One way to make the delivery of services more efficient is through the use of digital technologies. India has embarked upon an ambitious ‘Digital India’ mission, intended to drive governance and the delivery of services online, thereby eliminating middle men and infusing greater transparency and accountability in our systems.

I have also observed that government programmes tend to succeed when people get enthused and participate in the implementation of programmes.

I strongly believe that decentralization of powers and responsibility to local bodies needs to be more efficiently implemented as per the Constitutional provisions.

Funds, functions and functionaries must be transferred to these institutions.

This will bring governance closer to people and enhance its credibility and effectiveness.

My dear sisters and brothers,

It is not only the legislature and the executive that should become more accountable to people.

The judicial processes too must become more people-friendly.

Only an efficient, transparent, accessible and affordable judicial system can become a key touchstone of good governance, which can improve ease of doing business as well as ease of living.

Over the years, a number of reforms have made our judicial system more robust and responsive. But we have a long way to go.

The Chief Justice of India has recently talked about heavy pendency of cases in various courts. Apparently, there are nearly 60,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court and nearly 44 lakh cases in the High Courts. There is truth in the dictum that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.

Therefore, the most urgent judicial reform necessary is the elimination of judicial delays and the improvement of the efficiency of the justice system.

The government needs to be much more proactive in addressing the large number of pending vacancies in the judicial system so that delays are avoided.

As regards election cases pending before various courts, they need to be disposed of expeditiously.

Election petitions and criminal cases against political leaders must be decided quickly by special benches of higher courts in a time-bound manner. If need be, separate benches may be setup to expedite such cases within six months or one year.

Similarly, the presiding officers of legislative bodies need to decide anti-defection cases within three months time.

It is heartening that the government has enhanced the number of judges in the Supreme Court by 10% but I am afraid it may be still inadequate.

We also need to bring the judicial system closer to people.

Expanding the Supreme Court bench and having separate benches in different regions on trial basis has been suggested by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice.

I tend to agree with this recommendation.

I think it is high time we had more benches because in a country as vast as India the litigants have to travel long distances and spend a huge amount of money and energy.

There is also a need to improve court management and infrastructure facilities, especially in lower courts.

The endless possibilities of Information Technology may be leveraged to facilitate e-filing and online case management.

A number of civil and criminal cases have been pending for over 25 years.

This makes me think that we need to not only expand the Supreme Court but also divide the work into Constitutional Division and a number of legal divisions or Courts of Appeal.

As the Law Commission has suggested, there is a need for division of the Supreme Court into a Constitution Bench at Delhi and Cassation benches in four regions—Delhi, Chennai/Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai.

As regards the need for division of the Apex Court in four regions, Article 130 of the constitution states: “The Supreme Court shall sit in Delhi or in such other place or places, as the Chief Justice of India may, with the approval of the President, from time to time, appoint”.

The suggestions of the Chief Justice of India to raise the retirement age of high court judges and make tenure appointments to clear the backlog seem to be pragmatic solutions in the current context.

My dear sisters and brothers,

It is clear that there must be a synergy in the working of the three limbs of the state, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.

But the three organs of the state perform their duties well when they do not transgress into each other’s territory.

The welfare of the common man must be the enduring theme of our vision for transforming India. Let me remind you of the Talisman given to us by the father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

He said and I quote. “Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melt away.”

The issues raised in Rethinking Good Governance about the most important institutions that sustain and nourish our democracy are indeed noteworthy and deserve to be discussed widely.

I would like to place on record my appreciation for the publisher Rupa Publications India, and in particular Mr Kapish Mehra, for bringing out such a worthy publication.

I once again congratulate Shri Vinod Rai for raising issues of national importance.

Thank you

Jai Hind!

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