- Bench Strength
- Household Savings
CJI Chandrachud has announced that constitution benches with varying sizes will now be a permanent fixture within the Supreme Court. This long-awaited reform should be prioritized and fast-tracked.
What is the rationale behind having constitution benches with varying sizes in the Supreme Court? How can it further improve the delivery of justice? (10 marks, 150 words).
Rationale behind the judgement:
- Article 145(3) mandates that cases dealing with a “significant legal issue” related to the Constitution’s interpretation require a panel of at least five judges for hearing. Currently, there are 306 cases awaiting decisions from such five-judge panels.
- Additionally, 135 cases are in line for nine-judge panels. It’s important to clarify that this includes 130 related cases alongside five main cases.
- This highlights the gravity of judgments made by larger benches, as they have extensive and enduring consequences. A notable example is the “basic structure” doctrine, established by a 13-judge bench in the Kesavanada Bharati case, which has had a far-reaching and lasting impact on the legal landscape.
Reasons behind the long time taken for this reform to occur:
- India’s highest court handles an extensive backlog of over 80,000 cases, reflecting its role as a “people’s court.”
- Consequently, when a nine-judge bench convenes, it consumes a substantial portion, accounting for 26%, of the court’s allotted strength of 34 judges.
- During tenures such as that of CJI Ramana, which lack constitution bench hearings, it raises questions about the prioritization of cases that directly impact the public versus those considered more specialized or constitutional in nature.
For instance, the lower courts must significantly improve their performance. Regarding bail cases, the Supreme Court has frequently encountered situations where it believes that “the trial courts are failing to grasp the full scope of its directives.” This places a considerable burden on the Supreme Court’s workload. However, unless there are more constitution benches established, the scope of fundamental rights for Indian citizens will also remain limited.
The most recent information from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) concerning household financial holdings and debts has been subject to differing interpretations. Some experts argue that households are reducing their savings and taking on loans to maintain their spending due to sluggish income growth since the onset of the Covid pandemic. However, the economic department of the State Bank of India and the Finance Ministry have vehemently rejected this interpretation.
Indian Finance Ministers have consistently aimed to boost the household savings rate and encourage savers to invest their excess funds in financial instruments, but with limited success. Analyse. (15 marks, 250 words).
Status of Household Savings:
- The overall stock of financial assets held by households is still increasing, rising by 22.7% from ₹228 lakh crore in FY21 to ₹281 lakh crore in FY23.
- Although liabilities have also grown by 32%, increasing from ₹77 lakh crore to ₹103 lakh crore, it’s important to note that households are mainly taking on debt for the purpose of purchasing vehicles and property. This indicates their confidence in their future income prospects.
Analysis of the above data:
|Household investments in financial assets did decrease from ₹30.6 lakh crore in FY21 to ₹29.6 lakh crore in FY23, but it’s worth noting that the FY21 figure was artificially inflated by emergency savings pouring into banks during the Covid pandemic, including direct transfers by the government to Jan Dhan bank accounts. If we exclude that exceptional year and compare with FY20, we see a 27% increase in these financial flows.||Since FY20, households have significantly increased their borrowing, with new loans more than doubling from ₹7.74 lakh crore to ₹15.8 lakh crore.|
|When we examine the breakdown of financial savings by type of instrument, we observe positive trends over the three years leading up to FY23, including a 39% growth in household pension assets, a 37% expansion in equity and mutual fund assets, and a 27% increase in insurance holdings.||While the Finance Ministry points out that approximately two-thirds of bank personal loans and one-third of non-banking financial company (NBFC) loans are being used for property or vehicle purchases, there is still a substantial portion of these borrowings likely being utilized for consumption, indicating possible income constraints.|
Traditionally, Indian households have displayed a strong inclination to invest in physical assets rather than financial ones, which direct capital into productive ventures. It took nearly a decade of policy initiatives to shift domestic savers from a 75:25 ratio of physical to financial savings in FY12 to a 48:52 ratio in FY21. However, recent years seem to have witnessed a significant regression in this trend.
In general, instead of seeking positive aspects within the data, policymakers should focus their efforts on encouraging domestic savers to reorient their investments towards financial assets. It is crucial to ensure that the benefits of increasing interest rates are promptly passed on to depositors and fixed-income investors. Additionally, vigilance is necessary to monitor potential systemic risks that may arise for banks and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) due to the ongoing surge in retail lending.