- Mention about the defunct CSS and its role.
- Highlight the major problems facing the CSS.
- Conclusion – argue in favour of revamping the scheme and think of the possibility of NJIC.
Since becoming the Chief Justice of India (CJI), N.V. Ramana has been crusading to strengthen India’s ailing judicial infrastructure. In this regard, Justice Ramana has come out with a proposal to set up a National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation to speed up the execution of infrastructural projects at the lower judiciary (District Courts).
What’s the rationale ? The Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) for Development of Infrastructure Facilities for Districts and Subordinate Judiciary has been in force since 1993-1994. It was devised to address the justice delivery needs in the aftermath of India’s economic liberalisation in 1991.
Planned-operated by the Ministry of Law and Justice, the scheme mandates financial help by the Centre to the States and Union Territories for construction of court halls and residential units for judicial officers and judges of the district and subordinate courts. The method of funding is divided on a ratio of 60:40 between the Centre and the State. The funding pattern is 90:10 for North Eastern and the Himalayan States, and is 100% for Union Territories.
Recently, the Union Cabinet took a decision to extend the scheme for 5 more years with a financial commitment of Rs.5,357 crores. However, despite significant availability of funds, the infrastructure woes at the district level continues. Most district courts suffer from deficit of courtrooms. The sanctioned strength of judicial officers is currently 24,991 and the courtrooms available are currently 20,115. Other infrastructures are also failing.
- Erratic funding: While there has been steady increase in funds allocations over last few years, the central scheme has been mired in erratic funding. From the year 1993-94 to 1996-97, the central allocation for the scheme was a meagre 180 crores. The yearly funding averaged 69.18 crores per year for all States and Union Territories. In 2011-12, the central scheme saw a decent hike in allocations – funding was increased to 595.74 crores. The recent infusion by the NDA government to the tune of Rs. 9,000 crores is essential to speed up the judicial infrastructural development. It is important to note that even when the central funding has substantially increased, the same is not the case from the states.
- Lack of ownership : The real challenge is general lack of enthusiasm from the states that has largely contributed to slow utilisation of funds allocated for judicial projects. States routinely fail to release their matching contributions, along with underspending of allocated funds. States divert funds meant for judicial projects to other areas of priorities. They have poor coordination amongst multiple authorities.
- Lack of transparency-accountability : It has low premium on transparency and accountability. Although the scheme is in place since 1993, there is hardly any data available in the public domain to monitor its implementation.
- Even though the scheme has inbuilt mechanisms such as Monitoring Committees at district, state, and central levels for checks and balance, there is hardly any information available in the public domain to evaluate their performances.
- Importantly, funds released to different states lack transparency as there are no explanations why certain states receive more funds than the others.
CSS has failed largely owing to design flaws, erratic flows of fund, lack of centre-state coordination, absence of ownership at the state level, lack of transparency and accountability, and insufficient attention being paid on outcomes. It needs to be reinstated to reduce the growing backlogs at the lower courts and restoring ordinary citizen’s faith in the justice system.
Chief Justice Ramana has been rightly drawn attention to urgently fix the structural loopholes with an idea of a Special Purpose Vehicle in the form of National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation (NJIC). While this is debatable, given it would be seen an encroachment on states autonomy, the Department of Justice can urgently revisit the design of the scheme (including reducing the financial burden on states) and invest on its enforcement on day-to-day basis.