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The Hindu
The Hindu
Krishnadas Rajagopal

Supreme Court is with people to protect civil liberties: CJI Ramana

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana. Photo: Special Arrangement

Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana on Saturday asserted that the Supreme Court would stand by the people to protect their civil liberties, while Justice D.Y. Chandrachud cautioned that any semblance of majoritarian tendencies or clampdown on civil or religious freedoms would upset a sacred promise made to the ancestors who accepted India as their Constitutional Republic.

The judge observed that the “danger to our freedoms may not only originate from those who are tasked to govern but also originate in the intolerance of persons in society as well”.

The CJI said the people of India knew that “when things go wrong”, the Supreme Court, as the guardian of the largest democracy, “will stand by them”.

The Chief Justice said the Constitution, together with the immense faith of the people in the judicial system, brought to life the Supreme Court’s motto Yato Dharma Sthato Jaya. “That is, where there is dharma, there is victory,” he explained, in his keynote address to a global audience at the Indo-Singapore Mediation Summit of 2021 organised by Singapore International Mediation Centre, CAMP Arbitration and Mediation Practice and Mediation Mantras.

Chief Justice of Singapore Sundaresh Menon congratulated Chief Justice Ramana on his recent appointment as top judge.

Chief Justice Ramana said conflicts were unavoidable in any society for a variety of reasons, including political, economic, social, cultural and religious.

But with conflicts, there was also the need to develop mechanisms for conflict resolution, the CJI stressed.

“India, and numerous Asian countries, have a long and rich tradition of collaborative and amicable settlement of disputes,” the Chief Justice stressed.

The CJI took a leaf from the Mahabharata to put his point across that peace through amicability was better than violence.

“Mahabharata, actually provides an example of an early attempt at mediation as a conflict resolution tool. Lord Krishna attempted to mediate the dispute between the Pandavas and Kauravas. It may be worthwhile to recall that the failure of mediation led to disastrous consequences,” Chief Justice Ramana said.

The Chief Justice said it was both “uncharitable” and an “overstatement” to blame pendency on judicial delay. Even a case filed 24 hours ago was added to the oft-quoted pendency statistic of 45 million cases.

“The term ‘pendency’ is used to refer to all cases which have not yet been disposed of, without any reference to how long the case has spent in the judicial system... This is, therefore, not a useful indicator of how well, or poorly, a system is doing,” Chief Justice Ramana noted.

The CJI said one of the chief reasons for delay was “luxurious litigation”.

“It is a specific type of litigation wherein parties with resources attempt to frustrate the judicial process and delay it by filing numerous proceedings across the judicial system... Undeniably, the prevailing pandemic has also contributed to our woes,” Chief Justice Ramana explained.

Another reason may be the sheer number of cases.

“This may have to be viewed in the context that India is the largest democratic republic in the world. The people believe in the constitutional project, of which the judiciary is an integral part. Judges in India, particularly in the constitutional courts, often burn the midnight oil to meet their judicial and administrative case load,” Chief Justice Ramana said.

The Chief Justice hailed the legal aid programme in the country as a “remarkable achievement,” which had ensured easier access to justice to nearly 70% of the population, particularly the poor, women, children, minorities, senior citizens and the differently abled.

The CJI referred to the impact of grassroots alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms like Lok Adalats organised by legal services authorities.

“Over 7.84 million cases were settled by the Lok Adalats in 2019 and 2020. Nearly 3.94 million cases were settled at the pre-litigation stage. This is despite the pandemic and was possible by building an efficient online dispute resolution system in India,” the CJI said.

He said ADR mechanisms such as mediation and conciliation were participatory.

“ADR mechanisms enable parties to become insiders to a process that traditionally treated them as outsiders... I have personally seen disputes that have subsisted for decades get resolved through the process of mediation, within a short time,” Chief Justice Ramana underscored.

The CJI highlighted the “moral dilemma” of mediators functioning in the economically and socially diverse context of India.

Earlier, they were expected to be only “passive guides” in the mediation process. But with more and more complex commercial problems coming for mediation, they were expected to provide active assistance, the CJI noted.

He posed questions at mediators functioning in the economically and socially diverse community context.

“What happens when one party is better situated – economically, socially and politically – than the other? What is the duty of a mediator if the settlement reached is patently unjust to the weaker party? Should the mediator be a silent spectator during such negotiations? These are just some of the questions which one must consider, particularly in a country like India with our diverse social fabric. The requirements of substantive equality are a bedrock of every Constitutional democracy, and these ideals must be reflected even during the dispute resolution process,” Chief Justice Ramana reminded.

Majoritarian tendencies

At a separate event to commemorate the 101st birth anniversary of his father and longest-serving CJI Y.V. Chandrachud, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who is line to be the CJI, stated: “Majoritarian tendencies, whenever and however they arise, must be questioned against the background of our constitutive promise. Any semblance of authoritarianism, clampdown on civil liberties, sexism, casteism, otherisation on account of religion or region is upsetting a sacred promise that was made to our ancestors who accepted India as their Constitutional Republic.”

“Our nation was forged and united, with a promise of certain commitments and entitlements to each and every citizen. A promise of religious freedom, a promise of equality between persons, irrespective of sex, caste or religion, a promise of fundamental freedoms of speech and movement without undue State interference and an enduring right to life and personal liberty,” he stressed.

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