Does India have enough courtrooms, if it achieves the sanctioned strength of judges? No. 

Are we going to have enough court halls soon? No. 

Is there an impetus on having more judges in the lower judiciary? Yes.

Where will these judges sit? No one knows.  

In the first week of January 2019, the Apex Court witnessed a PIL with respect to the creation of a High Court for Andhra Pradesh. Eventually, dismissed as withdrawn, the PIL had contended that there was no infrastructure for the Court, and yet it was notified. The separate High Court for Andhra Pradesh is a priority, but what about thousands of courtrooms that must have been there but are not?

The Union Law Ministry in December 2018 disclosed a startling fact. India has just 18,731 court halls are available for Judicial Officers of District and Subordinate Courts while the sanctioned strength is 22,644. Neglect for appointments has ensured that we have surplus courtrooms because there are only 17,509 judicial officers in the lower judiciary.  

We do not have an idea as to by when we will fill in the deficit, in terms of appointments and courtrooms. The Union Government has been running a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) for Development of Infrastructure Facilities for Judiciary since 1993-24. As per the same, only 2,906 court halls are under construction. Therefore, even if we fulfil our targets, there will no rooms for judges to sit.  

The real problem is not that we do not have enough courtrooms as on date, but that this problem has been there for long. The Law Commission of India in its 127th report, released in 1988 had said, “Apart from court buildings, the existing court buildings have no amenities. Sufficient number of cupboards or almirahs for keeping files and records are not provided. Files and records are lying scattered on the floor. Large number of courts of Judicial Magistrate do not have printed forms for issuing summons or receipt books for acknowledging deposit of fines. Since November 1961, the courts in Ahmedabad rural district headquarters are located in a building meant for leprosy hospital, far away from the nearest habitation. Small court rooms formerly meant for small causes court in the compound of Ahmedabad City Civil Court are now set apart for the use of the Judges of the City Civil Court. They are very small in size, having a choking atmosphere. The courts in Alwar are housed in old stables of the erstwhile ruler. The courts at many places are being held in chambers where neither the litigants can stand nor lawyers can argue. In fact, cases have come to light where when an additional court is sanctioned, the existing court room is divided by a cotton curtain partition dividing one court room as court room for two courts. Both the courts are disturbed by the noise emanating from each. As a crowning glory, on bifurcation of old Bombay State, the High Court for the newly carved out Gujarat State since May 1, 1960, was set up in a building constructed for children's hospital. Twenty-eight years after the formation of Gujarat, the High Court still continues to hold its sittings in the same building. Gujarat High Court started with 5 Judges. Now they have 24 Judges. The congestion defies description. The response to the Law Commission's questionnaire reveals that the percentage of courts functioning in rented buildings range from 17 to 2 in States which have furnished the information.”

 

A courtroom running from a hospital building is unfortunate, but this grim situation was highlighted in 1978. The Law Commission in its 77th Report had said, “With the increase in the number of judicial officers, there will also have to be increase in the number of courtrooms. Much needs to be done in this respect even for the present strength of the judicial officers. Complaints have been made that in some places sufficient number of judicial officers have not been posted because there are not enough courtrooms. In other places the complaint is that some of the judicial officers have to function in shabby or small-sized courtrooms. It has to be borne in mind that no court can function efficiently and with requisite dignity if it does not have a proper court room. We require in a court rooma dais for the Judge to sit, a witnessbox, a dock for the accused in criminal cases, space for lawyers to sit and from where to address the court, and space to accommodate the parties and others interested in the case. Reader and the stenographer in some courts sit at the same level as the Presiding Officer and in other courts at a slightly lower level. Besides the regular court room, there is also needed an ante room or a chamber for the Presiding Officer and another room for keeping the records of cases pending in the court. The court clerks also sit there.” 

To tackle the mountain of pendency, additional vacancies were created in the judiciary. At the same time, the creation of judicial infra has not been proportionate. During this phase, novel ideas such as a Courtroom in a bus have also been tried, and yet, all have failed. Our judges need a proper place to sit, hear and decide the cases. There can be no other alternative. 

 

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