There is a common perception that judicial infrastructure is underfunded. However, a report by legal think-tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy estimated the Centre - under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Development of Infrastructure Facilities for the Judiciary - to have released Rs 7,460.24 crore between 1993 and 2020 so far, primarily for the District Judiciary.
The report 'Budgeting Better for Courts' says that despite this significant amount, the District Judiciary has only 17,817 courtrooms available for itself against a sanctioned strength of 22,750 judges.
This report evaluated the design and implementation of the scheme both at the central and state level.
The analysis is based on the official information released about the scheme in the public domain. The correspondence between state functionaries and the Department of Justice regarding the implementation of the scheme was sought under the RTI Act to substantiate the findings.
Another major finding of the report is that the scheme suffers from lack of adequate transparency and accountability measures. The government does not even have a record of the number of courtrooms that were built from funds released under this scheme.
Also, the funds released under the scheme had been distributed among different states in an arbitrary manner with no explanation as to why one particular state was being given more funds than the other.
It was also difficult to audit the information provided or the work done. Often projects under the scheme suffered from cost and time overruns, which could not always be checked. The scheme does mandate submission of Utilisation Certificates by state governments and has an online Nyaya Vikas Portal dedicated to it, but for reasons analysed in the report. These are wholly inadequate channels of supervision.
The report suggests the need to carry out a well-designed nationwide survey, which adequately measures the shortfall in number of courtrooms and residential units required for the judiciary and the condition of existing court infrastructure. At the same time, it recommends that the Department of Justice should request Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India or other independent bodies to conduct a nationwide review of this scheme before making any decision to continue funding it.
Records available with the Department of Justice and Ministry of Law & Justice show an amount of Rs 6100.24 crore has been granted by the Centre to the states under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) between financial year 1993-94 and 2017-18. Rs 650 crore had been released in 2018-19 and Rs 710 crore is expected to be released in 2019/20, adding up to a projected total of Rs 7460.24 crore since its inception.
The CSS for judicial infrastructure was introduced by the Central government in 1993 to provide Central assistance to states for development of judicial infrastructure. It has been extended until March 2020.