Meghalaya: Of Expectation & Reality; Is speedy justice possible in a lone-judge HC?
OPINION | By Ibankyntiew Mawrie
Justice delayed is justice denied!
How do we ensure that justice is served? Which organ in a democracy plays a vital role in ensuring that justice is available to all and most importantly, that the constitution is observed by all?
The answer is The Judiciary.
In Meghalaya, we cannot overlook the fact that during the past few years, the High Court had passed some landmark judgments and the Court exercised its power without sparing anyone not even the other three pillars of democracy — government, police and the media.
But sadly over the years, from the total strength of four judges including the Chief Justice, Meghalaya High Court is now reduced to only one judge, Justice Sudip Ranjan Sen, who is also currently serving as an acting Chief Justice.
Though, we can now breathe a sigh of relief following the resolution of the Supreme Court Collegium to appoint Chief Justices to the High Court of four states including two northeastern states — Meghalaya and Manipur, there is still a question of strength. Will these two judges be able to cater to the number of cases which are piling up in the court?
It may be reminded that the senior most pusine judge of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Justice Yaqoob Mir, has been recommended for appointment as the Chief Justice of the Meghalaya High Court.
The recommendation was made considering that the Meghalaya High Court has been functioning with just one judge, as against a sanctioned strength of four, since the retirement of Justice Tarun Agarwala, on March, 3, 2018.
Ironically, prior to this, the Court had become a place for 'ready-to-retire' judges who came to serve only for a month or so.
Ever since the Meghalaya High Court was established on March 23, 2013 and inaugurated by Justice Altamas Kabir, the then Chief Justice of India on March 25, 2013, the court has seen many CJs — Justice T Meena Kumari who served as the first Chief Justice of Meghalaya from March 23, 2013 to August 3, 2013.
Then came Justice Prafulla C. Pant, Justice Uma Nath Singh, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Tarun Agarwala. The former judges of the Court include — Justice T. Nandakumar Singh and Justice Ved Prakash Vaish.
But those were the days … Now the Court functions with only one judge — Justice Sudip Ranjan Sen.
If only one judge is given the responsibility of four judges, how can we expect speedy justice? If judges and chief justices cannot be appointed in time, then wouldn't it better if we had just stuck to the old procedure– operating as Shillong Bench of the Guahati High Court?
In relation to the second question mentioned above, I leave it up to the public to introspect and answer accordingly.
Of course, we rejoiced when we first got our separate high court, everything was running so smoothly until the delays of appointment of judges and chief justices started surfacing.
Lest we forget, recently, the Supreme Court had passed an order on March 28, 2018 regarding decongestion of cases in the constitutional court with reference to the need to appoint CJ in the High Courts without delays.
In its order, the SC rightly observed that if High Court remains without permanent Chief Justice, speedy justice suffers. And I personally agree with this observation because how else can you expect justice if the justice delivery system itself is under-represented and under-manned.
Hence, the presence of only one judge or two at the most, against the total strength of four in the High Court reflects the troubles plaguing the judiciary.
Can we expect our once pro-active High Court to guide Meghalaya in the right path again? Or do we have to sit and wait for the Apex Court to appoint a permanent Chief Justice who would come here and serve for a good number of years rather than just for a month?
Clearly, if we look at what's happening outside the periphery of our state, we have seen that the Apex Court — the Chief Justice of India — Justice Dipak Misra to be specific, is currently bogged down by pressure from the Opposition. On Friday, April 20, 2018, Opposition leaders met Chairman of the Rajya Sabha M. Venkaiah Naidu to hand over a motion to impeach Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
But despite all that, I, personally, still put my trust on the judiciary because if the government or police fails then we automatically turn our gaze to the 'Lady Justice' and expect the thumping of the gavel resounds through the entire state.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)