Law Day, 1989
Inaugural Speech Delivered by Hon'ble Shri E.S. Venkataramiah,
Chief Justice of India *
Cite as : (1989) 4 SCC (Jour) 17
I thank the organizers of this Law Day meeting for having given me this opportunity of addressing a distinguished gathering like the one present here on such a solemn occasion.
As many other distinguished predecessors of mine who have presided over this great Court, I have been associated in a humble way with it for more than a decade and I have seen its performance in all its aspects. The Supreme Court of India which constitutes the Apex Court of our motherland has played its assigned role during all these years of existence and on the 26th January, 1990 only two months away from now it will be completing forty years. I do believe that notwithstanding many criticisms (some valid and some not so valid) which it had to face, people of India still continue to have abundant faith in it. A large number of cases are being filed nowadays. The strength of the Judges of the Court has been increased to twenty-six. Even they find it difficult to cope with the large volume of work flowing into it almost every day. Perhaps this is the only Court in the world which has such wide jurisdiction in a democratic and free society consisting of 800 million. The nature of its work has undergone a change to such an extent that if Dr Ambedkar and Shri Alladi Krishnaswami lyer the two stalwarts who took keen interest in the Drafting Committee in shaping its jurisdiction come back to life and walk into the Court they would be baffled to see the tremendous change in the type of work we are doing. You have only to compare the Supreme Court Reports of the fifties with the Supreme Court Reports of the present decade to appreciate the point. As the people have increased in number, their problems have become more and more complex leading to enormous increase in litigation. The Court is doing its best to fight this docket explosion. The distance between their places of residence and the Court has not in any way deterred them from approaching the Court. As days have passed so has the communication system improved.
Today we have lawyers from all parts of India practising in the Supreme Court. The services of lawyers who are practising here are in great demand in all the eighteen High Courts of India. The lawyers and Judges of this Court who have also come from different parts of India constitute one single family. Perhaps this is the only institution in India which affords an opportunity to people from all parts of India to mingle together in such large numbers. On any working day, the Supreme Court building appears to possess the picture of a mini-India in action. The judgments of this Court are binding on all Governments, authorities and the people of India. If law is an integrating force, it is through the instrumentality of this Court that it is possible for it to maintain the unity and integrity of India.
In view of the huge arrears that have accrued the provisions authored in some enactments for a direct appeal to this Court in certain types of cases there is a demand for depriving this Court of some of its jurisdiction. There is a suggestion that the Court should be split up into two parts a Constitutional Court and a Final Court of Appeal or a Federal Court of Appeal for other matters. People have different views about this issue. I do not propose to talk about this aspect of the matter today. But I would like to confine myself to only one aspect, namely, the splitting of the Court as it exists today within present jurisdiction into different Benches sitting at different parts of India. During my short stay as the Chief Justice of India, I have been asked by people in different parts of India in the South and in the East to agree to the establishment of Benches in the Southern or the Eastern part of India. I told all persons who posed the said problem to me that I would be answering it on the Law Day. I am aware of the fact that our country is a vast one and litigants find it difficult to come to Delhi from the distant parts of India. I have also pondered over the consequences of the establishment of such Benches. It is our duty now to balance the two and try to reach a conclusion which is in the public interest. In doing so I propose to take a pragmatic approach.
I believe that during the period I have been a Judge of this Court the question of establishing a Bench of the Supreme Court came up before the Court at least twice. But no firm decision was taken on any of the occasions.
Article 130 of the Constitution of India reads thus:
"130. 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."
It means that the whole Court may sit in Delhi or in such other place or places as the authorities concerned may decide.
Compare Article 130 of the Constitution with Section 51 of the States Reorganisation Act, 1956 which reads:
"51. Principal seat and other places of sitting of High Courts for new States.(1) The principal seat of the High Court for a new State shall be at such place as the President may, by notified order, appoint.
(2) The President may, after consultation with the Governor of a new State and the Chief Justice of the High Court for that State, by notified order, provide for the establishment of a permanent Bench or Benches of that High Court at one or more places within the State other than the principal seat of the High Court and for any matters connected therewith.
(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1) or sub-section (2), the Judges and Division Courts of the High Court for a new State may also sit at such other place or places in that State as the Chief Justice may, with the approval of the Governor, appoint."
Sub-section (1) of Section 51 of the States Reorganisation Act talks of the principal seat of the High Court.
Sub-section (2) of Section 51 refers to the establishment of a permanent Bench or Benches within the State other than the principal seat of the High Court. This has to be done by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court.
Sub-section (3) of Section 51 authorises the Chief Justice of a High Court with the approval of the Governor to request the Judges and Division Courts of the High Court to sit at such other place in the State. There are three ideas involved in Section 51. First there must be a principal seat of the High Court. There may be a permanent Bench outside the principal seat under sub-section (2) of Section 51. Sub-section (3) of Section 51 provides for the sitting of a Judge or a Division Court at some place other than the principal seat. We do not have these three different ideas in Article 130 of the Constitution. It only says that the Supreme Court may sit in Delhi or in some other place. It means the whole Court may sit at Delhi or in any other place. It does not contemplate either a Judge or a Division Court sitting at a place where the Supreme Court as a whole does not sit. It may also be noted the that word 'Court' is defined as the Supreme Court of India in Rule 2(g) of the Supreme Court Rules and not as a Bench of the Court. Hence if any permanent Bench is to be established outside Delhi which is now the principal seat of the Supreme Court there it appears that there should be an amendment on the same lines in which Section 51 of the States Reorganisation Act is enacted.
Apart from the above objection there are other more important difficulties in the way of establishment of Benches. A Bench in the South if it is established does not stop there. It would be difficult to resist the demand for a Bench in the Eastern Region and in the Western Region and at Allahabad which is the centre of Northern India. The Judges of the Supreme Court who are limited in number will have to be distributed amongst these four regions and also some will have to be at Delhi. Then there will be at least five places where the Supreme Court will have to sit. Even if we provide four or five Judges to each Bench leaving aside the Chief Justice of India would it be a viable proposition? Can these four or five Judges manage every type of case that comes up before the Court civil, criminal, taxation and constitutional matters? Can they be expected to be proficient in all matters? If a constitutional case is to be heard by five Judges what about other types of work or would it be necessary to send the constitutional cases to the Delhi Bench. Then would it be proper to have two types of Courts, one constitutional Court at Delhi and other second class Supreme Court Benches outside Delhi. Is it just to deprive the Judges working in the Benches outside Delhi the opportunity of participating in constitutional matters or to get such an opportunity should they have to itinerate between Delhi and their respective Benches? What about other requirements such as library, etc.? We have one of the finest law libraries in India in the Supreme Court. Is it possible to provide the same type of library to all Benches? It will be impossible. Can all of them have the assistance of a research institute like the Indian Law Institute? They cannot. Moreover, all the mingling of all the Judges at one place helps to maintain a high tempo of judicial atmosphere. Every Judge is continuously learning from the other. Moreover we will be depriving the people under one Bench the benefit of experience and learning of the other Judges working in the other Benches. The Chief Justice of India will have to be touring amongst all the five Benches to discharge his functions efficiently. Judges being human beings are likely to develop likes and dislikes. There would be at least 100 Judges of the High Courts in each region functioning under four or five Judges of the Supreme Court, who I hope, I may be wrong, may sometimes turn out to be tyrannical.
When once these Benches are established, the lawyers of the respective regions will have to move out of Delhi. How many such lawyers can stay at Delhi waiting for a chance to argue a constitutional case once in a while if constitutional cases are to be heard at Delhi. If they are not here, they will not have that atmosphere where constitutional questions are argued. Where will they learn to do so? The one all India Supreme Court Bar which is now functioning at Delhi and which being a young Bar of 40 years is attempting to build up high traditions will have to be split up. This may perhaps adversely affect the integration of India. Should such a thing be allowed to happen? If people want that the Supreme Court should be in the centre of India then let the whole Court be moved to Nagpur which is almost the centre of India, where sites can be provided to all lawyers and members of the staff of the Supreme Court to build new houses and enable them to make good money either by selling or leasing the houses if they have them at Delhi. If they have no houses they can get houses at a cheaper rate in Nagpur. Being away from Delhi the political capital may also improve the health of the Supreme Court.
In one of the meetings of Judges earlier I suggested that if the Division of the Court becomes inevitable, 'Dravida', that is the South, according to Apte's Sanskrit English Dictionary means Dravida, Karnata, Gurjar, Maharashtra and Tailanga, then the States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa and Pondicherry may be placed under the Southern Bench and the rest under the Northern Bench; with equal number of Judges in both the Courts so that for no type of work, constitutional or otherwise, people of one region need to go to the other. There should be a total division. That was not found to be acceptable. What are the alternatives:
1. To continue to remain as we are.
2. To move the whole Court to Nagpur, whose climate is as good or as bad as the climate of Delhi, which is no sanatorium.
3. To have two viable Benches, one for the South including Maharashtra, Gujarat and Orissa and the other for the North.
4. To have a first class Supreme Court Bench with power to hear constitutional cases in Delhi and second class Supreme Courts in other parts of India.
With the several undesirable consequences narrated above, I have taken some time to put forward my views over this difficult problem of having permanent Benches of the existing Court in other parts of India inevitably leading to many undesirable results. I appeal to all of you not to allow this to happen. I know that this may not be a popular idea in other parts of India. But I am saying this in their favour and for their benefit to see that the other parts of India do not suffer at the hands of a second class Supreme Court Benche with the inevitable consequences of going to Delhi again for cases involving constitutional questions. This is for the people to judge. I may add that the modern communication system which is improving day by day (such as telephone, telex and fax) is such that it may assist the people to get over the problems created by mere distance.
One reason for the people's demand for the Benches of the Supreme Court at their own places is the provision in some Acts, like the Administrative Tribunals Act providing no appeal at all to any other Court except to the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution. Only the other day we had a case of a person claiming Rs 239 in a direct appeal to the Supreme Court coming from a very distant place. If the Government had appointed two more Judges to each High Court in the early stages to deal exclusively with service matters, perhaps there would not have been accumulation of service matters in the High Courts. The Governments were also perhaps worried about many orders being issued by the High Courts consisting of Judicial Officers only. Then they thought of a Service Tribunal consisting of Executive service members and judicial members; service members who have retired from Police Service and Forest Service and Services other than those in which some judicial experience may be gained, like the Indian Administrative Service. Even in the Motor Vehicles Act, Section 44(2) provides that the State Transport Authority or a Regional Transport Authority shall consist of a Chairman who has had judicial experience or experience of an appellate or a revisional authority under any law relating to land revenue. Should the Administrative Tribunal which decides important issues exercising powers equivalent to those of the High Court, and sometimes deciding the constitutionality of laws (about which I have my own doubt) be manned by people without any kind of judicial experience? The total cost of running the Tribunal including the huge cost incurred on rents of buildings now may be much more than the total cost of providing two extra Judges to each High Court to deal exclusively with service matters. I do not know whether the Administrative Tribunals Act makes such judicial experience necessary in the case of all although there are some judicial members of the rank of High Court Judges and sometimes of the rank of District Judges. The Act excludes the jurisdiction of the High Courts and the Supreme Court has to be directly approached under Article 136 of the Constitution by persons from every nook and corner. This can be avoided and some relief may be granted by providing a right of appeal to the corresponding High Courts against the decisions of the tribunals constituted under the Administrative Tribunals Act to be decided by two Judges of the High Courts with power to dismiss the appeal at the stage of preliminary hearing by writing a speaking order. Perhaps this would avoid many appeals to this Court too. This is an alternative suggestion to satisfy the demand made by the representatives of one of the High Court Bars who said that their demand for a Bench of the Supreme Court in their place mainly arose on account of the provisions of the Administrative Tribunals Act.
This again is a matter for consideration by Parliament.
Now, let me say a few words about the problem of accommodation in the Supreme Court Building and the immediate needs of the Supreme Court Bar. Fortunately immediately after I assumed my present office, we were able to obtain sanction of the Government to construct an additional extension to the main building of the Court at a cost of about Rs 5 crores. There were many hurdles in the way of commencement of the work. The Building Committee of the Court and all other Government agencies concerned in the construction met many times and the teething troubles have been overcome. I understand that on the 1st of December, 1989 the work will be commenced. In this extension, there will be ten Court Halls and sufficient accommodation for the offices of the Court. Perhaps, it may be possible to provide even for the Press a good room in it.
Some time ago I went round the Bar Room and the Lawyers' Chambers which are highly congested. I have accorded administrative sanction to the processing of papers for the construction of a basement hall measuring 100 ft.X 50 ft., i.e. about 5,000 sq. ft. on the eastern side of the building adjacent to the Mathura Road which is estimated to cost about Rs 65 lakhs including the cost of the air-conditioning equipment. This hall is to be allotted to the Bar. This may ease the problem of accommodation for the Bar. I hope the Government would soon sanction the scheme. It is stated that Urban Art Commission does not approve of any building above the ground level to come up here as it would spoil the beauty of the existing building.
As regards the Lawyers' Chambers I feel very strongly that there is an immediate need for constructing 200 Chambers. The existing Lawyers' Chambers were constructed when there were 200 active lawyers practising regularly at the Supreme Court. Now, the number has touched nearly 2000. The suggestion that the area covered by the present Bar Council of India building on the Bhagwandas Road and some small buildings on the Mathura Road side may be given to the Bar in lieu of the Dhobi Ghat area where a foundation-stone was laid for constructing lawyers' chambers has not been accepted by the Works and Housing Ministry even though it was suggested that the Dhobi Ghat area could be used for building residential houses for Government officers. But when the matter was discussed with the Prime Minister he appreciated the need and asked the Law Minister to visit the place and to make appropriate recommendation. Before any decision could be taken the elections were called. I hope the Government of India would appreciate the necessity for a four-storeyed building at the proposed area with about 200 Lawyers' Chambers so that the entire area occupied by the Court, the Indian Law Institute and the building of the Society of International Law may become a complete legal complex. This has to be pursued further. Lawyers may be asked to contribute some amount for the construction of this building. It may lessen the burden of the Government a bit.
Whatever other demands were made by the Supreme Court Bar Association during these few months have been met out of the Supreme Court funds. A suggestion also has been made to make a grant of about Rs 3 lakhs to the Bar Association to buy books, etc.
I hope in about two or three years time many of the existing problems relating to the building would come to an end.
Friends I do not wish to take much of your time.
Thank you once again.