Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said that every institution has to evolve in tune with the times, a statement that was seen as a veiled reference to continuance of the collegium system by the Supreme Court which had struck down the judicial appointments law.
He also suggested that rendering free legal aid to poor should be a criterion in selection of judges and that dedication and commitment of the administration in ensuring justice may open up “new ways”.
“No institution can remain static. Changes are inevitable in tune with the times. There is a need to change the way we think–old things are best and that is why we will not lay our hands on them is not the way,” he said. Though the Prime Minister did not make any reference to the striking down of the NJAC Act by the Supreme Court, his remarks at a judicial forum were seen as a veiled reference to that subject. He said the concept of Lok Adalat has been successful. But if we say there has been fulfilment, then there will be stagnation.
The Prime Minister was addressing a gathering of top judges, law officers and legal experts at the foundation day celebration of National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) here with Justice T S Thakur, who is set to become the next Chief Justice, on the dais along with a few other judges.
Heaping praise on NALSA for extending free legal services to millions of people, Modi said “in every system, the boundary should expand consistently, its characteristics should keep changing and power should keep growing.” Complimenting the free grievance redressal mechanism set up by the judiciary, Modi called it a “big thing” as nearly 8.5 crore pre-litigation and pending cases were solved by the Lok Adalats in last two decades and said it showed that how good the outcome could be if there was “out of box” thinking.
“It is a big thing. There is a strength of the system. If the government is also dedicated to justice, is alert towards it, then a way can be found,” he said, while emphasising the need to ensure justice to the poor and the downtrodden. Referring to new initiatives by the legal body, Modi said “if administration is dedicated to ensure justice, committed to justice, then a way could be found.”
He further said “I was telling Justice Thakur with diffidence, when there is recruitment (of judges) can we ask them how much time you had devoted for providing legal aid to poor.” Calling for research by Law universities on Lok Adalats, Modi said little changes in the system and rules may benefit people. “We can lower the burden on the judiciary and we can stress on ensuring quality of justice which is our intention. That is why there is a need for collective effort.” Stressing that ensuring justice to poor was very important for India’s overall development, Modi added “justice for all” to his slogan of “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas (Together with all, Development for all).”
“I believe in ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ and with that there must be ‘Sabka Nyay’,” he said. Talking about how successful government’s Jan Dhan Yojna has been, Modi said “we will have to assimilate everyone. We will have to bind everybody. We will have to do something for everybody and when you take this kind of initiative, then I admit it is hugely beneficial.” On government’s efforts to ensure welfare of all sections, Modi referred to transgenders and said there was a need for systemic changes.
“Transgenders. Can you imagine how much apathy there has been towards them. The Almighty has given them what he had to give. We will have to develop system. We will have to bring changes to legal system. Will have to bring changes to the rules. Government will have to change their points of view. We will have to do things together,” he said. On his suggestion of including the criterion of time spent by judges for free legal aid to the poor for judicial appointment, Modi said if such a provision was made, then it will help develop sense of accountability and sensibility towards the poor.
“Can we ask them how much time you spent for ensuring free legal aid to poor,” Modi said, noting making standards like keeping 10 marks for interview and asking such question will help ensure justice to the poor. At the same time, he added, “I am saying these things but I do not know the nitty gritties.”
Referring to Justice Thakur’s elaboration on various schemes being implemented by NALSA, the Prime Minister lauded his effort and said these aspects of the judiciary is not known to the common people. Modi also complimented Justice Thakur for his commitment to the cause of justice.
“I do not know Justice Thakur much. I have got opportunity to talk to him because of this even. But I am surprised to see his involvement on the subject (to ensure justice to poor). He was talking about the issue like on a mission mode. “I think there will be automatic solutions to the problems if we have such leadership both in the central and state level.”
The Prime Minister said a huge section of people do not have the courage to come to courts but their problems are being looked after by the Lok Adalats. In the course of his address, Modi, listing initiative by his government, said after becoming Prime Minister, he found out that a whopping Rs 27,000 crore was lying unclaimed in PF accounts of workers and called the previous dispensation was “insensitive”.
The Prime Minister said he initiated the process to return the money to the beneficiaries. “The government was insensitive. I am sorry to say. We made a system to address the issue. I am committed to give them their dues,” he said.