“The Supreme Court of India, the country’s highest judicial institution, has lost its original character by a vast self-enlargement of its jurisdiction that has virtually turned it into a general court of appeal”
1. What is a National Court of Appeal?
The National Court Appeal with regional benches in Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata is meant to act as final court of justice in dealing with appeals from the decisions of the High Courts and tribunals within their region in civil, criminal, labour and revenue matters. In such a scenario, a much-relieved Supreme Court of India situated in Delhi would only hear matters of constitutional law and public law.
2. How will the NCA help ease the apex court’s burden?
The Supreme Court is saddled with civil and criminal appeals that arise out of everyday and even mundane disputes. As a result of entertaining these appeals, the Supreme Court’s real mandate — that of a Constitutional Court, the ultimate arbiter on disputes concerning any interpretation of the Constitution — is not fulfilled. By taking up the Supreme Court’s appeals jurisdiction, the NCA will give the former more time for its primal functions.
3. What is the case backlog in the Supreme Court?
The Supreme Court disposed of 47,424 cases in 2015 compared to 45,042 in 2014 and 40,189 in 2013. In spite of recently accelerated rates of case disposal, the backlog was still a staggering 59,468 cases as of February 2016.
4. What is the Supreme Court’s position on creating an NCA?
The Supreme Court itself, as early as in 1986, had recommended establishment of an NCA with regional Benches at Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata to ease the burden of the Supreme Court and avoid hardship to litigants who have to come all the way to Delhi to fight their cases.
But subsequent Chief Justices of India were not inclined to the idea of bifurcation of judicial powers, and that of forming regional benches of the apex court. A government order in 2014 too rejected the proposal that such a court of appeal is constitutionally impermissible. The outlook changed in February 2016 when the Supreme Court admitted Chennai lawyer V. Vasanthakumar’s petition for setting up an NCA.
5. What is the government’s position on the NCA?
In an order dated December 3, 2014 the Centre rejected Mr. Vasanthakumar’s proposal for a National Court of Appeal with regional Benches. The Ministry cited three grounds for rejecting the idea — The Supreme Court always sits in Delhi as per the Constitution; the Chief Justices of India in the past have “consistently opposed” the idea of an NCA or regional benches to the Supreme Court; and the Attorney-General said an NCA would “completely change the constitution of the Supreme Court”.
6. What is the current status of the proposal?
The Supreme Court in March 2016 decided to form a Constitution Bench to debate the idea of an NCA. A Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur had said it was time to debate if the Supreme Court was too burdened to provide equal justice to all. A verdict in favour of NCA would act as a great influence on Parliament to amend the Constitution itself to make room for NCA.
The government, however, holds that the idea is a “fruitless endeavour” and will not lessen the burden of 2 crore cases pending in trial courts. On April 26, 2016, Attorney-General told the bench, “We will only be adding to lawyers’ pockets. The Supreme Court should not consider this when its own dockets are full.”