Supreme Court extends NRC deadline to December 31

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday extended the last date to file claims and objections on inclusion of names in the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC)  to December 31, 2018. Earlier, the last date for submission was December 15. 

The draft NRC was published on July 30 in which names of 2.89 crore of the 3.29 crore people were included. The court’s order came after the Assam government asked it to extend the deadline on Tuesday.  A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman said that issuance of notice to those who filed claims and objections will commence on February 1, 2019, and the verification would done from February 15.

The list incorporates names of 2.89 crore people out of 3.29 crore applicants. The names of 40.07 lakh people have been left out.  Earlier, the apex court had allowed the use of five more documents by claimants for the draft Assam NRC, saying the premise “better to exclude genuine person than to include a wrongful person” can’t be accepted.

Resolution of election disputes take long periods in India: SC

The resolution of election disputes in this country takes unacceptably long periods in most cases, which “reduces the adjudicatory process into a mockery of justice”, the Supreme Court today said while advocating setting up of benches in high courts to exclusively deal with election petitions.

“We are sad to state that invariably the resolution of election disputes in this country takes unacceptably long periods in most of the cases. Very rarely an election dispute gets resolved during the tenure of the declared candidate reducing the adjudicatory process into a mockery of justice.

“Such delay, coupled with a right of appeal to this Court, makes the whole process of adjudication a task in a good number of cases,” a bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Rohinton Fali Nariman said adding that it was desirable that in each High Court dedicated benches are created by the Chief Justice to deal with the election petitions exclusively.

“Those judges assigned with the adjudication of election petitions preferably may not be burdened with any other work until the adjudication of the election petitions is completed.

“An exercise which may not be difficult especially the class of litigation occurs only once in 5 or 6 years and the number of cases would be very limited. We are conscious of the fact that it is not possible for laying down any absolute rules in this regard.

“Essentially it is for a Chief Justice of the High Court to run administration and devise ways and means for expeditiously disposing of the cases brought before the High Court.

“We only gently remind that the kind of delay in the adjudication of election disputes exposes the High Court’s unpleasant criticism damaging the credibility of the institution, a situation which is certainly required to be avoided at any cost,” the bench said.

The observations came while hearing an appeal of Mohd Akbar who had approached the apex court against repeated adjournments in the Chhattisgarh High Court.

Akbar had challenged the election of one Ashok Sahu in 72-Kawardha Legislative Assembly Constituency on various grounds including the commission of certain corrupt practices.

Release undertrial prisoners in jail for half their likely term: SC

undertrial prisonersThe Supreme Court Friday said those undertrial prisoners, who have already spent in jail half the period of the sentence they would have got if convicted for the offences they have been charged with, would now be released.

A bench of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman said judicial officers of districts will visit the jails under their jurisdiction once a week to look into such cases and pass appropriate orders to free such prisoners.

It said the judicial officers shall identify such prisoners who have completed “half of the maximum period of imprisonment provided for the said offence” and after complying with the procedure under section 436-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, pass an appropriate order in jail itself for release of such prisoners, who fulfil the requirement, for their release immediately.

Passing the order, Chief Justice Lodha said: “Having given our thoughtful consideration to the legislative policy engrafted in section 436A and large number of undertrial prisoners housed in the prisons, we are of the considered view that some order deserves to be passed by us so that the under-trial prisoners do not continue to be detained in prison beyond the maximum period provided under section 436A.”

Section 436-A provides that an undertrial prisoner who is accused of an offence, other than one attracting death penalty, would be entitled to be released on personal bond with or without sureties if he had already been in detention for a period that is half of the maximum sentence he would have to undergo if convicted for the offences he has been charged with.

The court directed that the jurisdictional magistrate/chief judicial magistrate/sessions judge shall hold one sitting in a week in each jail/prison for two months from Oct 1 for this purpose and directed the jail superintendent concerned to provide all necessary facilities.

Directing the matter’s next hearing Dec 8, the court said on the completion of the two-month exercise, the registrar generals of the high courts will send a report and undertrial prisoners released to the secretary general of the apex court.

As the court ordered relief, Chief Justice Lodha said fast-tracking of criminal cases required multi-pronged strategy involving the creation of infrastructure, court complex, appointment of judicial officers to man the subordinate courts, and most importantly the financial backup.

“The whole problem is of finance. They (states) want the expenditure of judiciary be met by the centre. It can’t be done by the chief justice of the high courts. The problem (facing) the judiciary can’t be addressed without finance. This is an area where you have to take lead,” the court told Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.

“We are trying (to deal) at the judicial side and the administrative side. Our hands are tied. We can’t do anything more,” the CJI said, asking Rohatgi to give a “road map” for fast tracking the criminal justice system.

The court granted Rohatgi three months’ time sought by him to place before the court the road map.

Addressing the court’s queries, the attorney general told the court that “it can’t be done by the centre alone” and the states will have to chip in too.

The court during the last hearing of the matter Aug 1 had asked Rohatgi whether the central government was contemplating fast-tracking criminal justice and, if so, whether any policy has been framed and steps taken in this regard

SC notice to EC on PIL seeking candidates photos on EVMs

eci-logoThe Supreme Court Friday issued notice to the central government and the Election Commission on a PIL seeking to address the problem of namesakes eating into votes of main candidates by inclusion of photograph of the contesting candidates on the EVMs’ balloting unit.

A bench of Chief Justice R.M.Lodha, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman issued the notice as petitioner Akash Gahlot told the court that the problem of namesakes has taken epidemic proportions in the just concluded general elections.

Gahlot, in his PIL, said that it was the 2004 general election in which party strategists realised the potential of namesakes as a tool against rivals in a close contest.

Since then, namesake candidate have been eating into the vote share of candidates from mainstream parties. The namesake menace worries the parties since this causesA confusion among the voters, he said in the PIL.

“Though they are never seen campaigning, the result show that many of them had polled more votes than candidates of smaller parties,” the PIL said.

Citing an instance from just concluded Lok Sabha election, the PIL petitioner said that Mahasmund Lok Sabha constituency in Chhattisgarh, where Bharatiya Janata Party’s Chandu Lal Sahu faced Congress’ Ajit Jogi, had 11 candidate with similar names. Eight were Chandulals, three were Chanduram and at least 10 of them were Sahus.

The BJP candidate won getting 503,514 votes as against the Congress nominee’s 502,297 votes but the other Chandu Lals got 20,255, 12,308, 10,797, 7,091, 5,497, 4,718, 2,268 votes respectively.


Make serving on bench mandatory for senior counsel

Judicial vacancies will always be a headache in this country as long as senior lawyers are queasy about crossing over from the bar to the bench.

Being a practicing advocate has its advantages: One is free to take up cases one likes, there’s more money to be made, not to speak of the freedom from reading monotonous briefs and leading a secluded private life.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is perhaps one of those acutely conscious of the need to fill up judicial vacancies to clear pendencies and arrears that have of late eroded public confidence in the institution.

On July 11, he told the Rajya Sabha that he had written five letters to Chief Justice of India Justice R.M. Lodha to fill vacancies in the high courts.

His push coincides with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on “minimum government maximum governance”, which goes without saying, needs a robust justice delivery system.

However, such epistolary flourishes may not help if lawyers are loathe to cross over.

As of today, the sanctioned strength of the high courts is 906 judges – against a strength of just 640 judges and a staggering 266 vacancies. That means the high courts are functioning at 64 percent of their sanctioned strength. Pendency as on September 30, 2013, stood at 45,89,920 cases (Supreme Court – Court News, October-December 2013).

These are existing vacancies and not Prasad’s proposed 20 percent hike in the existing strength of high courts that will add another 181 judges, taking the strength to 1,086.

If Justice Lodha has to get rid of the 266 vacancies, he must get that many competent legal minds of impeccable integrity who are willing to make the logical transition from the bar to the bench.

Besides being lawyers of capability and redoubtable integrity, they must have served as judicial officers for ten years or practised as a lawyer in a high court for ten years – a constitutional requirement.

Besides these, the qualifications outlined by the current Finance Minister Arun Jaitley – himself an eminent lawyer – as Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha on August 18, 2011, in a debate on a motion to impeach Justice Soumitra Sen of the Kolkata High Court (who has since resigned) too have to be factored in.

Slamming the existing collegium system of judges of appointing judges as short on criteria and akin to the “sharing of spoils” system in a -residential system of government wherein the best were unwilling to become judges, Jaitley outlined the threshold “objective” criteria for appointment of judges.

“What is your academic qualification? How bright were you during your academic days? What is your experience as a lawyer? If you are a judge, how many judgments have you written? How many have been set aside? How many have been upheld? How many juniors have you trained? How many cases have you argued? How many cases have been reported which you have argued? Have you got laws laid down? Have you written papers on legal subjects?”

One thing that was left unsaid and should perhaps be said after the Gopal Subramanium controversy: Recommended persons shouldn’t be inconvenient to the government, otherwise their names are likely to be returned.

Another problem that both the CJI and the law minister are aware of is the dearth of talented people willing to shift base – possibly because it is far too lucrative to be a part of the lawyer community.

Justice Markandey Katju, a retired Supreme Court judge who now heads the Press Council of India, once said in court that there are three stages in an individual’s legal career.

In the first stage “it is all work no money, second stage some work some money and in the third stage no work and all money.” It is at the last stage that the senior lawyers have to be picked for judgeship and the hesitation is obvious.

In other counties, like in Britain, the Queen’s Counsel (equivalent to senior advocate here) is mandated to serve on the bench for a fixed period and just can’t refuse. This practice is laudable and must be replicated in India and every lawyer upon being designated as a senior must at some stage devote a few years of his legal career to the bench.

This practice would not only address the question of the judiciary finding competent people to dispense justice – like Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman – but will develop appreciation of many a problems that judges face.

CJI Lodha said on July 10 that if senior lawyers, even for a short time, take the onerous responsibility of sitting on the bench, they will understand the burden that judges shoulder.

If vacancies have to be filled up and the justice delivery mechanism galvanized, then writing letters to the chief justices of the high courts will not suffice.

It will require a gargantuan effort on part of the law minister and the CJI to get senior counsels to sit on the bench, rather than argue at the bar.