1- Newspapers are full of reports of citizens approaching the #HighCourts or #SupremeCourt to complain about the inaction on the part of the executive by filing what have come to be known as Public Interest Litigations (#PILs). On the filing of this #PublicInterestLitigation, Courts have been ordering notices to various Government Departments and more than 85% of these Public Interest Litigation cases are eventually “closed” by giving a direction to concerned Departments to take necessary action on the representation of the citizen “ in accordance with law ”, within a specified time frame. No important questions of law are being decided in this exercise.
2- The precious time of the High Courts / Supreme Court is being diverted for a low-level adjudication not involving any important questions of law. The National Judicial Litigation Grid does not give any details about the total number of Public Interest Litigations filed all over the country. An examination of the Website of the A.P. and Telangana High Courts would show that about 190 Public Interest Litigation Writ Petitions were filed in the year 2019 in each State. Taking 200 Public Interest Litigations in a High Court in a year as a basis, it would be safe to estimate the total Public Interest Litigation cases filed in the country to be in region of about 6000.
3- Now, let us examine the average time, a High Court spends on a Public Interest Litigation (assuming that the Public Interest Litigation brief consists of only 25 pages, the time taken by a Judge to read 25 pages would be at least 12.5 minutes). As Public Interest Litigation cases are usually heard by two Judges, it would mean that at least 25 minutes judicial time would be spent actually by the Judges by studying the brief. Each hearing lasts at least 15 minutes. A minimum of two hearings are required for the disposal of the case which means at least 30 minutes for adjudication in the open Court. Thus, the total time devoted by two Judges for disposing for adjudicating for single case is about one hour.
4- The time taken by the Appeal Examiners in the Registry of the High Court to scrutinize and number the PIL WPs would be at least 30 minutes. The time taken by a stenographer to take down the dictation, type the order and get it signed by the Judges, to enable a certified copy of the order to be issued would be another 30 minutes. The Secretarial / Para-Judicial work in processing single Public Interest Litigation case would be about 60 minutes. Thus, two hours of Judicial and Para-Judicial time is consumed for adjudication of a single PIL.
5- Taking two hours as an average, it would clear each High Court (save the very small High Courts in the North East and Sikkim) would be devoting about 400 hours in a year on Public Interest Litigations @ 200 cases per year.
6- The High Courts sit for only 210 working days in a year. Each working day is five hours. As a matter of fact, one out of the five working days in a week are earmarked exclusively for PIL cases. It works out to 20% of the time of the Chief Justice and his Companion Judge.
7- Instead of hearing and adjudicating important Constitutional issues, the time of the First Court is being spent on stereo typed, pedestrian adjudication. In adjudicating Public Interest Litigation cases, the judiciary is unconsciously becoming increasingly drawn into the nitty gritty administrative issues. It is in the danger of becoming a Super Executive.
8- In the year 2011 the “ The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011” was introduced in Parliament but the Bill lapsed owing to lack of political will. Had this Bill being passed, the bureaucracy would have been obliged to be more responsive and treat citizens with respect and redress the grievances of the citizens within 30 working days. Since this Bill was not passed the citizens are forced to file PILs for getting their grievances redressed within a specified time frame. Therefore, there is need to establish “Citizens Grievances Ombudsman” at the State and National level. This Body should consist of experienced members of the bureaucracy, such as, retired Civil Servants, Police Officers, even Judges, Educationists, Members of the Civil Society, etc.
9- Any citizen, who is aggrieved by the inaction of a Government Body can approach the Citizens Grievances Ombudsman with his grievance and the Ombudsman would be empowered to examine the matter and direct the concerned Government or Local Body, Municipal Authority to redress the grievance of the citizen within a specific time frame.
10- With the advent of teleconferencing, the establishment of a Citizens Grievances Ombudsman will not be an expensive affair. The citizens can approach the Citizens Ombudsman by lodging a complaint either in writing or email or by Video and all these complaints should be received round the clock by dedicated Call Centre. These complaints would then be brought to the notice of the Members of the Citizens Grievances Ombudsman, who working from home, would then issue necessary instructions which would be binding on the various Government Departments. If this is done there would be no need for the citizens to rush to the court by filing Public Interest Litigation for routine matters.
11- The High Courts can then focus their attention of clearing the backlog of important cases relating to property, taxes, matrimonial, arbitration and contractual disputes, instead of getting bogged down in routine PIL matters, because as of November, 2019, the pending cases in the Supreme Court were 59,867 and the pending cases in various High Courts were 44.75 Lakh.
12- It would be in the fitness of things for the Supreme Court and High Courts to clear their own backlog rather than attempting to be a Super Executive.
Adv. Prabhakar Sripada