Minister of Law and Justice and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad talks to Express about finding a replacement for Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi, combating pendency, making India a destination for business and proper judicial scrutiny before appointing a judge. Excerpts:
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi refused to continue as the top legal officer of the country. Is the government looking for other options?
We have received communication from Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that he no longer wants to continue with the post, citing personal reasons, and we are considering. As a law officer, he has done a great job for the government. A new appointment is the domain of the Prime Minister and my ministry, which will take a final call on it. We are considering a few names and are in talks with people, but no decision has been made.
Pendency has been haunting judiciary since ages. What is the government doing to fix it?
Cutting down pendency is our top priority. We are first analysing loopholes in the system, after which we’ll fix them. We have set up a National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) in which at a single click, pendency figures of all courts are available. We have installed a ‘Justice Clock’ at Jaisalmer House, which shares pendency figures of top courts who dispose of maximum number of cases. I am also convening a conference of Chief Justices of High Courts to expedite cases pending for more than 10 years.
What is the fate of National Litigation Policy?
Law Commission of India has submitted its report on the National Litigation Policy and my ministry is considering it. We will be able to finalise it and share it with all stakeholders in a few months. Once the policy is in place, it will make the government a responsible and efficient litigant. This way, pendency will be bought down.
Judges have always said that the judiciary is overburdened and appointments are slow.
Since the NDA government came to power in 2014, we have appointed maximum number of judges. Appointment of 126 High Court judges in 2016 alone was the highest since 1989. In the last three years, 17 Supreme Court and 249 High Court judges have been appointed. This has been done without the clearance of Memorandum of Procedure, and appointments will continue to happen in the same manner.
After witnessing retired Justice C S Karnan’s case, is there a need of scrutinising the way appointments are done?
Yes, there’s definitely a need for proper judicial scrutiny before appointing a judge of a Constitutional court. This incident underscores compelling need.
The government is the biggest litigator in courts.
As of now, 46 per cent of cases pending in courts are those in which the government is a litigator. We are working on cutting it down. As far as inter-government cases are concerned, we have asked all ministries to appoint a nodal officer who will scrutinise the grounds for pursuing a case in court. If the officer finds enough grounds, then a round of mediation will be held between the ministries. If that doesn’t work, only then will a case will be filed in court.
India’s ranking on Ease of Doing Business index fell last year. What is the government doing to improve it?
Our government is committed towards the Prime Minister’s vision of making India a business destination. We have constituted a high-power committee to find the loopholes in our policies and suggestions to fix them. We are conducting special meetings with judicial officers and industry people to make them aware of the arbitration method of resolving the disputes.