Full transcript of the BBC Hindi Special Programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with the law minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj
Nagendar Sharma: What are your priorities as the Law Minister of the country?
Hans Raj Bhardwaj : Simplification of the judicial system and addressing the long delays in disposal of the pending cases. India’s judicial system is strong and has the trust of the public, we only need to address the costliness of this and the delays in disposal of cases. For general public to be assured, we need to bring the rising costs down and remove the delays. We are committed to modernise the system and make its functioning smooth. We hope to do it in consultation with the judiciary and others and by October we should be able to start this.
BBC listener from Bangkok: Sir, why do those guilty of communal riots get away without any punishment in India, whether it be the Gujarat riots or those which followed the Babri Masjid demolition?
Hans Raj Bhardwaj: There were problems in the Babri Masjid demolition case, as big names were involved, and attempts were made to delay the case. The shameful Gujarat riots also put a question mark on the country, but see how the Supreme Court intervened and removed the obstacles.
Now, we are not satisfied with only this. Since our government assumed office, we decided that shameful incidents such as Gujarat riots would not be allowed to be repeated in this country. I assure you that such shameful acts would not be allowed. The way the rule of law and the judicial process was manipulated and made helpless by the previous government, we are firmly looking into it and would redress the complaints to the satisfaction of the Indian public.
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Bhardwaj, the Supreme Court intervention was only in one case. More than four hundred riots cases are still pending in Gujarat. The basic point is why are those guilty of riots not punished?
Hans Raj Bhardwaj: What the Supreme Court has said with regards to Gujarat riots, that those who were constitutionally responsible for running the judicial process -- the police, the administration -- they did not actively fulfil their duties and we would probe why they remained passive during that period and who was responsible for that. This is our responsibility, which in normal circumstances would have been the duty of the state government, but because there was a total collapse of the state’s responsibility towards law, that is something under consideration. The use of phrase ‘modern Neros’ by the Supreme Court is very serious.
So all that is being considered by the government, and we find such a situation to be really unfortunate in which the people have lost faith in the state’s judiciary and do not feel safe in the state. We are concerned about this and since this is a very serious matter, it would be solved after careful and serious consideration.
BBC listener from Delhi: Sir, more than two crore twenty six lakh cases are pending in India, and your government wants to abolish the fast track courts. How will you bring down the long list of pendency then, as you are well aware of the dictum ‘justice delayed is justice denied’...
Hans Raj Bhardwaj: What is required is filling up the posts of judges in High Courts throughout the country which have been lying vacant during the past five years. About one-third posts of High Court judges in the country are vacant at the moment. Within a month of coming to power, our government has filled up the vacant posts of High Court judges in three states – Uttaranchal, Rajasthan and Delhi. We are determined to keep this pace, and we are dealing with the vacancies of one High Court every month to clear this backlog.
Now as to your your question: What the previous government had termed as fast track courts, were in fact not on the fast track. The money given by the Finance Commission was handed over to the states by the previous central government, and they were asked to appoint retired judges who were to decide 14 cases a month.
Since a long time, there have been recommendations of the Law Commission which clearly say that the requirement of judicial manpower should be looked at every two-three years, and the required numbers of judges should be provided by the government. The then Chief Justice at the time of the previous government had asked for more judges, but this was not done either. Now what we are saying is that keeping the Law Commission report in mind, we should be able to provide the requisite number of judges, if not more.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Bhardwaj, you are talking about filling up vacancies, but recently the two chief justices at the time of retirement expressed displeasure at the vacancies and the indifference by successive governments...
Hans Raj Bhardwaj: We have decided that despite the financial constraints and other similar problems, we would do all that it takes to keep the judiciary strong and its functioning smooth. As far as possible we would increase the number of judges according to their requirement, and would send them quickly to their places of posting to bring down the pendency in courts. During my previous tenure, I was successful in bringing down the pendency in the Supreme Court, this time we hope to do so in High Courts as well.
This time I also intend to implement the programme of automisation and computerisation of courts. If I am successful in doing this, the country would see a definite decrease in the number of pending cases.
BBC listener from Jodhpur: Sir, you have admitted that there is shortage of judges in India. I want to draw your attention towards the long and cumbersome process of the judicial process in the county, especially the revenue cases linger on indefinitely. Can anything be done to shorten this long and painful process?
Hans Raj Bhardwaj: We would have to understand that ours is a poor country and we have an old legal system. More judges and courts could not be provided as were required and the state governments have experienced difficulties in this regard. We are going to call all the Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts to Delhi soon, and we would discuss with them the ways to bring down the pendency and other practical solutions to this problem.
In fact there should not be a delay in the revenue cases, as these are dealt separately and not in ordinary courts, we would draw the attention of the state governments towards this. These cases can be solved by directly going to the public, let me make it clear that it is for the executive officers who have to do this. Wherever there is a delay, the responsibility lies with the local administration. Since this is a matter concerning rural India, we are looking into this, and by next month I would be in a position to give you the exact picture..
Nagendar Sharma: But why is the common man afraid of legal process and the courts?
Hans Raj Bhardwaj: On the contrary, I would say the common man in India trusts only the courts. What he is afraid of is the long process -- but then our legal process is two centuries old -- that causes delays, and the cost involved in litigation. These are the two things which make the common man fear, and this is a problem being faced by many civilised societies. When I was the Law Ministry last time, we had drawn up a 20 point programme, in which we endeavoured that solutions could be reached in other ways rather than leaving everything to the courts, and after amending the laws these solutions were conciliation, arbitration and mediation. So these are the practical ways of finding solutions.
Now this would take a little time and would appear complex, but if we settle into this and it works out, then I think aided with computerisation and bunching of cases --and we would also amend the procedure towards simplification -- just as we succeeded in bringing the pendency down in the Supreme Court, we would succeed in this also.
BBC listener from Hyderabad : Sir what you are saying is appreciable, but how would you tackle the rampant corruption in judiciary? Many chief justices of the Supreme Court have also raised this...
Hans Raj Bhardwaj: There is a lot of noise about corruption in judiciary, especially in recent years. I have drawn the attention of the Chief Justice of India towards this. Cooperation of public is required in removing corruption from the courts, if anyone spots anything like this, then it should be highlighted. So far as this practice in judges is concerned, we are going to talk to the Chief Justice and we are working swiftly in this regard. In the past, people of the country had immense faith in the judiciary and it has to be restored back to the same level.
Nagendar Sharma: But are you not concerned the way common people are losing faith in judiciary, especially with cases of corruption in higher judiciary?
Hans Raj Bhardwaj: Ours is a democratic system in which every institution is accountable to the Constitution, the executive is accountable to Parliament and the judiciary is accountable in the court of the public of the country. When the public says there is something wrong with the judiciary, then judiciary should realise this, and whatever help judiciary needs the government is ready to provide. We must all understand the judiciary of the country must be free, fair and transparent, then only would the people of the country be able to trust the law and the courts fully. We are worried and concerned over this. I met the new Chief Justice of the country as soon as I assumed the charge of the law ministry -- both of us have discussed this matter. I appeal to the public of the country to come forward fearlessly and write directly to me if they have come across any cases of corruption in judiciary. The government is worried and I assure we are determined to restore the faith of the public in judiciary.
BB listener from Rohtak : Sir, delays apart, out legal system is very costly and out of reach of the common man, and is only for big leaders and businessmen who commit any crime or fraud and get away. Can this all be changed?
Hans Raj Bhardwaj: See there is already a National Legal Services Law, in which the women and the weaker sections of the society are entitled for free legal help. I am aware that this is a problem and we do not want anybody in the country to be deprived of legal help because of economic constraints. We have this in the Common Minimum Programme of the new government, and we want to take this legal help to all the villages of the country. We are also in the process of setting up mobile courts for speedy disposal of cases.
BBC listener from Ghazipur : Sir what is being done to streamline the appointment of judges and making it transparent? Why not have a judicial commission for this ?
Hans Raj Bhardwaj: This idea of National Judicial Commission is not a good one, and the present system of appointment of judges is a good procedure. The present procedure has important components of careful scrutiny and consultation. Presently appointments are done after the chief Justices of High Courts discuss with the fellow judges, with state governments and also consult the Supreme Court Chief Justice. After due care only the names are sent to the President.
Now, this idea of a commission would only lead to deadlocks and fights, which I think is not good for the judicial image. This idea does not seem workable, and I feel that this procedure which we have been following since past five decades is a good one based on consultation -- and it works.
Nagendar Sharma: So you are satisfied with the present appointments system?
Hans Raj Bhardwaj: I am fully satisfied with this and it works. I am saying this with my experience in the Law Ministry.
BBC listener from Patna : Why is the Indian Law flexible in comparison to the developed countries? I am referring to the big names being let-off easily by the Indian courts, all scams involving big names do not yield any judicial decision...
Hans Raj Bhardwaj: The democratic roots of our country are so strong, that any name however big is brought before the law. Such names try to evade the law, but they do not succeed. I say there are two things which have worked well in India and these are the judiciary and the democratic process. India has its own problems, we are serious towards them. As I said earlier, it is the high cost of litigation and the delay, if we remove them we would be proud of our judicial system.
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