The lack of easily available legal aid "supresses the full potential of the individual", Chief Justice NV Ramana said Saturday, as he addressed an event to increase legal awareness across the country and called on the government to guarantee equal access to justice for all members of society.
The Chief Justice underlined the importance of "inclusive access to legal services" in delivering 'inclusive growth' and said issues like lack of (or poor) wages and uncertainty over the next meal were barriers affecting delivery of justice to crores of India's poorest people.
He also stressed the importance of a judiciary functioning at full strength, particularly to offset cases that have piled up as a result of the pandemic; he said "we have tried to ensure faster justice".
On that note, he thanked the government for the "speedy approval" of nine Supreme Court judges and said he had been assured by Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, who was present at the event (as was President Ram Nath Kovind), that other approvals for High Court elevations and transfers would "come in one or two days".
The Chief Justice's comment was significant given that since September 4, more than 100 recommendations regarding appointments and transfers at High Courts have been made.
They are all, so far, pending clearance by the government.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court Collegium (headed by the Chief Justice) also recommended 16 names as judges to High Courts in Bombay, Gujarat, Odisha and Punjab and Haryana.
"Today (Gandhi Jayanti) is a historic day for India and the world... the teachings of the Mahatma continue to guide us to a better humanity. Gandhiji believed in welfare for all - including those who are lowest in the society," Chief Justice NV Ramana said today.
"For inclusive growth... we need to provide inclusive access to legal services. We need to guarantee equal access to justice. Unmet legal needs suppress the full potential of the individual (and) in countries with major socio-economic gaps, the differences widen."
"In our country (there are) so many issues like lack of wages, uncertainty about next meal... (these) are barriers to accessing justice," the Chief Justice said, and underlined the importance of people, particularly those from vulnerable sections, being aware of their legal rights and remedies.
"Key to equal justice is through legal awareness... when vulnerable people are aware they can access legal services," he said, as he pointed out President Kovind was a lawyer too.
The Chief Justice also spoke about the impact of COVID-19 on the judiciary, saying it had created several problems, including piling up of cases and more vacancies in courts.
Last week the Chief Justice had also said that he hoped in-person hearings at the top court and others around the country could resume soon.
These had been suspended in the wake of the pandemic, with all courts switching to a virtual hearing system. The Chief Justice, however, stressed that he is unwilling to take any risk.