Majority still outside protective umbrella of law: Kumar

New Delhi: Admitting that affordable and quick justice for the common man was still a "distant dream", Law Minister Ashwani Kumar today stressed on the need to strengthen the lower judiciary, saying a majority of the people were still outside the protective umbrella of the law.

He said that while the Centre was willing to fund the process of strengthening subordinate judiciary, the state governments will also have to pitch in with their efforts.

"I must confess that our judicial system is under strain with more than three crore cases pending in various courts. The goal of affordable and expeditious justice for the common man is still a distant dream."

"As for the protective umbrella of the law, the majority of our people are still on the outside looking in, unable to count on the actual realisation of their legal rights," Kumar said addressing the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts.

He said for those left outside the "umbrella", repeated affirmations of commitment to the rule of law and legal rights of citizens seem "hollow."

Kumar said there was a need to make "substantial investments" in the physical and human resource infrastructure to strengthen the justice delivery system.

The strength of judges and judicial officers needed to be least doubled at various levels, the Minister said.

Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir has written to the Chief Justices of the High Courts to take up the matter with the respective state governments to increase the outlay for judiciary in their budget and to persuade them to agree to doubling the existing number of courts in the subordinate judiciary.

Kumar said consultations are on with the Planning Commission, the Finance Commission and the Finance Ministry to find additional resources for the purpose and the expenditure may be shared between the central and state governments.

Improving the physical infrastructure of courts is another thrust area, Kumar said, adding that the government is supporting infrastructure development for subordinate courts through a centrally-sponsored scheme under which 75 per cent of the cost of infrastructure is funded by the Centre and the remaining 25 per cent by the states.

"The central government looks forward to receiving action plans from state governments for development of infrastructure for more subordinate courts during the current year to enable the release of funds," the Minister said.

He lamented that while bringing justice to the doorsteps of the people was an important aim of the government, the Gram Nyayalaya (rural court) scheme has "not taken off as expected."

"As against the goal of setting up more than 5,000 Gram Nyayalayas in the country, only 172 have been notified so far, of which 152 are operational. Pursuant to the thrust given by the Law Ministry, I am hopeful that 616 Gram Nyayalayas could be established by 2014," he said.

Referring to pendency of cases, he said out-of-court settlement of disputes is now considered the best way to bring down backlog of pending cases.

"The fact that about 11 lakh Lok Adalats have been held throughout the country where more than 3.76 crore cases have been settled testifies to the popularity of the Lok Adalats as a dispute settlement mechanism as well as a means of relieving regular courts of the burden of backlog," he said.