A Supreme Court bench, hearing the VVIP chopper deal black money case, was reportedly furious with the attempts by the defendant’s lawyer to delay the proceedings, saying ‘justice cannot be bought or delayed’.

“…Justice cannot be delayed like this,” a bench of justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah told the lawyer appearing for the accused.”Do not do this non-sense. Justice cannot be purchased like this,” the bench said.

Let’s wish that the judges were right. It’s no doubt a noble thought, so the judges may not be faulted for the exalted view. But the ground reality of Indian judiciary indicates something else. For those who have the wherewithal, both possibilities exist in abundant measure, especially at the lower rung of the system.

The subordinate courts form a major part of the judiciary. In fact, most people’s interaction with the rule of law is through the lower courts and it is this experience that determines their relations with the judiciary. And this experience has not been particularly a happy one.

According to the latest figures presented in Parliament, there were 4.2 million cases pending in the high courts alone as at the end of January. The National Judicial Data Grid shows over 3 crore cases as pending in the district and subordinate courts. Given that every case involves the denial of justice to someone, this brings out the enormity of trust deficit that is building up in the system.

Consider the case of youth languishing in jail as under-trials: 67 per cent of the prison population in India are under-trials, mostly belonging to the underprivileged classes and 47 per cent of them are in the age of 18-30 years. India is frittering away its demographic dividend by lodging its youth in jails, mostly for petty offences.

There are serious issues about the delivery of justice in India. Things work out in picture perfect fashion for those who can afford it, but there is no universality about such privilege. For the selected class of people, there are enough safeguards and more to secure justice. The very concept of justice is tailored to meet the requirements of such privileged class. But for the rest of the people, judicial process is a painful experience, which gets them neither justice nor equity.

If john Stuart Mill’s concept of justice as providing greatest good to the greatest number, our judiciary has failed the Indian people as the proportion of people who managed to get justice delivered to them in reasonable time to those who were denied such privilege is heavily skewed against the latter.

Even access to the judicial system is highly restrictive as vast sections of people are debarred from it by the sheer distance between themselves and the courts. This is not to speak of cultural, economic and political barriers that prevent them from even thinking of recourse to courts as a viable option.

This takes us to what Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi once referred to as the ‘disparity’ between ‘the two Indias’ in one of his lectures. “There is an India that believes that it is the New Order and there is an India that lives below a ridiculously drawn Poverty Line on daily wages in night shelters with no access to education or healthcare, let alone access to the Courts of Law. The ambivalence is intriguing. And, this is exactly what I call as getting lost in translation. 

“One India in the aforementioned perspective is the Vision and to know how far we have succeeded in attaining this Vision of Justice is really a matter of perception. But nevertheless, there is a graphic disparity right there and removing this disparity will be the mission for the Indian Judiciary in the times to come. And if I may add, for that to happen, it is going to require a “constitutional moment” of its own kind in the life of this institution, which I believe has been long overdue,” Justice Gogoi said.

Without such constitutional moment, the judicial system will continue to favour the privileged few and there seems to be no solution in sight, which is the worst part. But for those who have the resources, the judiciary the ultimate protector of liberty, freedom and justice and at times justice specially tweaked in their favour.

There is a saying in the countryside that if you have a good lawyer and the money power to engage him, you can commit any crime and get away with it. Apart from the rustic nature of the thought and the lack of sophistication in its expression, it carries a certain grain of truth, howsoever repulsive it may sound to the defenders of our judicial system.

And this applies across the spectrum and to all levels of the judiciary, including the apex court. There have been numerous cases where the proceedings have been stalled on the flimsiest of grounds, which end up in favour of the offenders, who often happen to have the resources to have their way.

This is what perhaps provoked the bench to rebuke the lawyer appearing on behalf of the accused in the VVIP chopper black money case. ,


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