Allahabad: Underlining the issue of pendency of cases in courts, President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday said the judiciary is yet to fully meet people's aspirations for "speedy and affordable" justice.
Inaugurating the 150th anniversary celebration of Allahabad High Court, he said justice must be "accessible, affordable and quick" for people to understand the meaning of justice.
The president said as an upholder of the Rule of Law and enforcer of the right to liberty, the role of the judiciary was sacrosanct and the faith and confidence people have in it must be always maintained.
"Though the Indian judiciary has many strengths, it is yet to fully meet the aspirations of our people for speedy and affordable justice," he said at the sesquicentennial celebration.
Mukherjee noted that the judiciary has played an important role since independence in strengthening the democratic framework of the country and maintaining rule of law.
"High Courts in particular have a unique position under the Constitution of India. They are not only guardians of people's rights and liberty, they also have the onerous responsibility of ensuring that access to justice is not denied to any citizen on account of economic or any other disability," the president said.
He said judiciary which is one of the three important pillars of our democracy, is the final interpreter of the Constitution and it must help maintain social order by swiftly and effectively dealing with those on the wrong side of the law.
"Our courts are today overburdened on account of number of cases pending before them. There are over three crore cases pending in various courts throughout the country.
"Out of these, about 3.85 million cases are pending in 24 High Courts. The pendency of cases in the High Courts has slightly declined from 4.15 million in 2014 to 3.85 million in 2015, but still have a long way to go," he said.
His remarks come in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statement on the issue during the centenary celebrations of Patna High Court on Saturday. Modi had mooted a novel idea of courts coming out with an annual bulletin to highlight the oldest cases being tried by them to help create sensitivity on pendency of cases in the country.
Expressing concern over vacancy of judges in High Courts, the president said out of a sanctioned strength of 1,056 judges in all the High Courts, the working strength of High Court judges through out the country was only 591, as on March 1, 2016.
"The High Court at Allahabad has only 71 judges, including the chief justice, against the sanctioned strength of 160 judges. Approximately, 911,000 cases are pending in this court as of February 2016, a decline from 1.1 million cases in 2014," he said.
The president said the governments, judges and lawyers must work hand in hand to make justice a living reality.
"Justice delayed is justice denied. I am sure that the central and state governments will extend all support to the Allahabad High Court in its endeavour to reduce pendencies," he said.
Chief Justice of India (CJI), Justice T. S. Thakur said judiciary as an institution was facing challenges from outside and within.
"I am referring to crisis of credibility that we face today. Judges need to be conscientious of discharge of their duties, punctuality, judicial retribute and efforts to do their best is the need of the hour," he said.
Speaking on the occasion, Union Law Minister Sadananda Gowda stressed that the Centre was committed to providing necessary assistance to states for improving judicial infrastructure. He said that a scheme has been launched by the Centre, in this regard, under which Uttar Pradesh has been extended a financial help of Rs500 million.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav noted that his government was committed to improving judicial infrastructure in the state and has raised the budgetary outlay for the purpose from Rs17 billion to Rs30 billion.
A corpus fund of Rs2 billion has been set up for the welfare of lawyers, he said, adding that a separate fund of Rs100 million has been put in place for young legal practitioners in the state.
Governor Ram Naik noted that while timely dispensation of justice was indispensable to ensure rule of law, care must be taken to avoid the two extremes as "justice delayed is justice denied" and "justice hurried is justice buried".
"The judiciary, hence, must brace itself for this tight-rope walk," he said.
The president also released a set of two postage stamps and another set of two coins to commemorate the 150 years of the Allahabad High Court. The Chief Justice of India released a special volume brought out on the occasion.