“Equal Justice under the law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building, it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends which our entire legal system exists…it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.”Lewis Powell Jr.
At the time of the establishment of the Supreme Court, there was uneasiness in the minds of the makers of the constitution concerning access to justice to all people in our country. One of the most crucial functions of the Supreme Court is to focus on cases that involve the question of Constitutional Law. The Vice President Shri Venkaiah Naidu put the point of the splitting of the Supreme Court in front of eminent legal personalities after the recommendations from the law commission reports.
The empirical research on litigation in India by Theodore Eisenberg, Sital Kalantry and Nick Robinson which is published in the paper “Litigation as a measure of well-being” mentions the condition of the people of poor economic conditions, fewer literacy rates and the principle of access to justice constrains the government to guarantee financial opportunity and social rights to those people.
Pendency of cases
The Supreme Court of India was functioning at the earlier stage widely as a constitutional court, being delivering 70-80 judgments every year by the constitutional benches constituting five or more judges as per the Article 145(3) of the Constitution of India, on matters “involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the constitution”. The situation is, however, changed today. The court has to deal with all kinds of cases that include non-constitutional matters, petty matters regarding the bans and allegations on the officers, etc. burdened the court and hence it can’t focus on more pertinent matters. The PILs which are filed are even sometimes unnecessarily wasting the time of the court. It also deals with the matters of criminal and civil cases, the Centre-State, State-State cases, anyone can approach directly in case of infringement of fundamental rights and it has a wider jurisdiction which increases the workload on the court.
In today’s date, there is a lot of burden on the Supreme Court while dealing with the cases. As per the statistics of January 2019, 57,346 cases were pending before the Supreme Court. It is mentioned that there is an increase of an average of 308 cases or 0.6% per month. Further, in July 2019 the no. raised to 59,695 cases and 2019 marks a year of reversal in the 5-year trend as at the end of the first half of 2017 there were 59,165 cases and in July 2018 55,432 cases were pending in the supreme court.
Access to Justice
Garth and Cappelletti are of the view that in the legal system, people could corroborate their rights and anatomize their disputes under the common supervision of the state.According to them, access to justice has two projections: first, that the legal system should be equally accessible to all, and second that the result should lead in a just manner individually and socially.
As per Article 39A of the Constitution of India, “the state shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall… ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not any citizen because of economic or other disabilities.”
The geographical location of the Supreme Court is a kind of barrier for the people who are poor and belongs to the southern, eastern, or western parts of the country. There may be cases in which people would give up to go further at the Supreme Court due to the long-distance and heavy expenses needed for the same.
Recommendations of different Reports
The Rajamnar Committee, an inquiry committee set up by the government of Tamil Nadu under Justice Dr. P. V. Rajamanar had submitted its report on May 27, 1971, which suggests that the Supreme Court should not be burdened regarding the issues of state enactments and the High court decisions should be finalized in such matters. Further, the report recommended that the civil and criminal appellate should not be bestowed on the Supreme Court unless there is a matter of constitutional interpretation. This would facilitate a decentralized build-up and assure the burden of the Supreme Court while dealing with the appeals daily would be reduced.
The 95th report of the Law Commission under Justice K K Mathew suggested that there should be two division of the Supreme Court of India, that is:
- Constitutional division
- Legal division
And the constitutional bench should deal only with the matters concerning constitutional issues.
The 125th report of the Law Commission under Justice D A Desai recapitulated the same recommendation of splitting the benches to be enforced. Thenceforth, the 229th report of the Law Commission recommended that “a constitution be set up at Delhi to deal with constitutional and other allied matters” and “four cassation benches to be set up in the Northern region/zone at Delhi, the Southern region/zone at Chennai/Hyderabad, the Eastern region/zone at Kolkata and the western region/zone at Mumbai to deal with all appellate work arising out of the orders/judgments of high courts of the particular region ”.
The Supreme Court on the Matter
As per Article 130 of the Constitution of India, “the Supreme Court may sit at a place(s) other than Delhi on the order of the Chief Justice of India with prior approval of the President of India.” There is no need for a constitutional amendment for the set-up of benches and the CJI can act as a persona designate provided the approval of the President is required. In the case of V. Vasantha Kumar v H C Bhatia and Ors., the Supreme court referred the matter to a constitutional bench for a decision on the National Court of appeal.
The Supreme Court mentioned that these steps might dilute the superiority or authority of the decision of the Supreme Court but the critics argued that the country also has high benches for meting out justice without justice being diluted. Moreover, the decentralization both structural and functional, with only the bench in Delhi dealing with constitutional matters, such concerns may be put to rest. The next point is of the effect on the integrated judiciary system that the setting up of regional characters may dilute the unitary character of the judicial system.
In 2010, the Full Court of 27 judges headed by the then CJI K. G. Balkrishnan had rejected the recommendation of law commissions by citing the above-mentioned reason.In 2015 the apex Court brushed up the petition to open branches in other parts of the country and then Chief Justice of India HL Dattu said that “No one can seek a mandamus for setting up of circuit benches of the Supreme Court. That will be like the CJI issuing notice to him. Article 130 can be used some other time. Not now.”
The situation today desperately needs the implementation of these recommendations. The thing is that the process is dependent on the Chief Justice of India and there is no need for any constitutional amendment that means no role of the legislature. There was also a demand to do a trial and set up a court in Chennai but it was not done. The rule of stare decisis applicable to the High courts should be the same as on the regional courts. All the appellate matters related except to the constitutional matters should be dealt with in these courts. ;
In the Supreme Court, most of the cases are from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and other areas located in that region because of the accessibility but the same is not possible for the poor litigants living far place from Delhi. This is the era of judicial reform and this reform could smoothen the administration of justice.
 Sankalp Mishra, Regional Benches of Supreme Court- The path Ahead, Vol 6 No. 1 (2017), Christ University Law Journal, pp. 57-73.
 Explained Desk, Explained: The idea of regional Supreme court Benches and division of the top court, The Indian Express, at Home Page, Sept. 28, 2019.
 Mauro Cappelletti and Bryant Garth, Access to Justice: The Newest Wave in the Worldwide Movement to Movement to Make Rights Effective, 27 BUFF. L. REV. (1977–78), pp. 181-182.
 Id. at 182.
 Government of India (1971), Report of the center-state Relations Inquiry Committee, Madras, p.137.
 Manuraj Shunmugsundaram, A more meaningful court: Why decentralization of judicial powers is the way forward, The Leaflet, at Home Page, June 11, 2018.
Government of India, Law Commission of India(1984), Ninety-fifth report on Constitutional Division within the Supreme Court- A proposal For, p. 1.
 Government of India, Law Commission of India (2009), Two twenty-ninth report on Need for the division of the supreme court into a constitution bench at Delhi and cassation benches in four regions at Delhi, Chennai/Hyderabad, p.12.
 (2016) 7 SCC 686
 J. Venkatesan, Supreme Court again says ‘no’ to regional Benches, The Hindu, at National Page, Feb. 20, 2010.
 Ridhima Kumar, Why not have regional Benches of SC? , The Governance, at the Home page, Jan. 2 2019.