Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Saturday said that from hasty indiscriminate arrests, to difficulty in obtaining bail, the process leading to the prolonged incarceration of undertrials needs urgent attention.
He added that prisons are “black boxes” and prisoners are “often unseen, unheard citizens”.
Delivering an address at the 18th All India Legal Services Authority, also attended by Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, and senior judges of the top court, he said: “The challenges are huge. In our criminal justice system, the process is the punishment. From hasty indiscriminate arrests, to difficulty in obtaining bail, the process leading to the prolonged incarceration of undertrials needs urgent attention.
“We need a holistic plan of action, to increase the efficiency of the administration of criminal justice. Training and sensitisation of the police and modernisation of the prison system is one facet of improving the administration of criminal justice. NALSA and legal service authorities need to focus on the above issues to determine how best they can help.”
Responding to the concerns expressed by Union Minister Rijiju on the huge case backlog in the country, Justice Ramana stressed that the non-filling up of judicial vacancies was the major reason for it.
Rijiju said it was a matter of concern that over five crore cases are pending in courts across the country in the 75th year of independence and emphasised on coordinated efforts by judiciary and the executive to reduce pendency.
“The pendency of cases in our country is touching five crore. What’ll be the situation after 25 years? People ask me about as the Law Minister,” he said.
The Chief Justice said: “We judges also, when we go outside the country, face the same question, how many years….. You all know the reasons for pendency. I need not elaborate on it… You all know the major important reason is the non-filling up of the judicial vacancies and not improving the judicial infrastructure.”
He said the judiciary is always ahead in trying to resolve all these issues and his only request is that the government has to take up the filling up of vacancies, as well as providing infrastructure.
He added that the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) is the best model and it is a success story and a suggestion for a Judicial Infrastructure Authority in the last Chief Justices’ conference was made.
“Unfortunately, it was not taken up. However, I hope and trust that the issue will be revisited,” he said, also mentioning how NALSA was settling around two crore pre-litigating cases and one crore pending cases last year.
Chief Justice Ramana cited that there are 6.1 lakh prisoners in 1,378 prisons and they are indeed one of the most vulnerable sections of our society.”Prisons are black boxes. Prisoners are often unseen, unheard citizens. Prisons have different impacts on different categories of prisoners, particularly those belonging to marginalised communities,” he said.
He added that a grave issue affecting our criminal justice system is the high population of undertrials in prisons and out of 6.10 lakhs prisoners in India, around 80 per cent are under trial prisoners.