The case for a High Court for Puducherry

After approaching many authorities seeking the establishment of a High Court at Puducherry, the Legislature of Puducherry has now passed a resolution to establish its own High Court at Puducherry. The law secretary has, by his letter dated 07.07.2017, informed the Madras High Court of the same. A copy of the letter has been marked to this author. In this context, it is pertinent to discuss the law, economics and society behind the need for a High Court at Puducherry.

Puducherry has a population of 12.5 lacs as against Tamil Nadu which has a population of  7.5 crore. However, Puducherry spends a considerably large amount towards the expenses of the Madras High Court. This can be reduced to less than a quarter with a much smaller High Court for Puducherry.

In fact, according to Article 229 read with Article 231 (2)(c) of the Constitution, when a common High Court is established for more than one State, administrative expenses have to be paid only from the consolidated fund of the ‘State’ in which the principal seat of the High Court is situated. It is in accordance with this principle, that Goa which has a permanent bench of the Bombay High Court does not share the administrative expenses with Maharashtra, where the principal seat of the High Court is situated. Similarly, the administrative expenses of Calcutta High Court are not shared with the Government of West Bengal by the administration of Andaman and Nicobar which has a circuit bench of the Court. However, this provision is breached with respect to Puducherry which shares the exorbitant expenses of the Madras High Court with the Government of Tamil Nadu disproportionately. At least Goa and Andaman have a bench of the High Courts at Bombay and Calcutta respectively, Puducherry does not even have one. This was brought to the notice of the Madras High Court in Writ Petition No. 43482 of 2016 which the Court refused to admit on technical grounds.

Several cases from Puducherry have been pending before the Madras High Court for close to a decade along with ones from other parts of Tamil Nadu because 75 judges cater to the huge population of Tamil Nadu. A High Court at Puducherry with 4-5 Judges can speedily reduce this pendency at least with respect to Puducherry.

According to the recommendation of the Law Commission in 1988, the Judge to Population ratio is to be 50 Judges for a population of 1 million. In 2016, the Supreme Court observed that the ratio is only 12 Judges every 1 million people in India. In fact, the ratio recommended by the Law Commission of India is much lesser than the standards in several other countries like the United Kingdom and the USA. This ratio at Puducherry can be increased if a separate High Court with 4-5 judges is established.

The number of cases filed and disposed of at the district courts of Puducherry in 2010 is 4 times higher than the numbers at Sikkim, Manipur & Goa (with High Courts) combined. Therefore, the size of population and territory is irrelevant. Bigger States have more Judges and staff, smaller States have lesser.

The data collected by this author under the Right to Information Act, 2005 from the District level Courts at Sikkim, Manipur, Goa and Puducherry are provided in the following Table.

Similarly, the statistics provided by the All India Bar Association in its memorandum to the Chief Minister of Puducherry in April 2017 shows that the number of cases disposed from Puducherry (28,631 cases) is three times more than the number of cases (9,031 cases) disposed by four High Courts – Tripura, Manipur, Meghalaya and Sikkim put together in 2016. This justifies the setting up of a High Court for Puducherry.

Chennaiites safeguard fundamental rights of Tamil Nadu’s residents by filing PILs challenging their Government. But PILs from residents of Puducherry against their Government involves travel, time and expense.

People opposing establishment of High Court at Puducherry often cite the example of litigants from Ooty or Coimbatore having to travel long distance to Chennai. It only defies logic why litigants from Puducherry need not be benefitted merely because litigants from Ooty are not benefitted, particularly when Constitution permits Puducherry to have its own High Court under Article 241 but does not similarly permit Ooty or Coimbatore.

Establishment of a High Court for Puducherry will strengthen the case of statehood for Puducherry. Article 239A of the Constitution provides for the establishment of a legislature and Council of Ministers for certain Union Territories with an intention to provide them statehood gradually. Out of the 7 Union Territories originally placed under Article 239A, all of them except Puducherry were granted statehood by 1989, the year in which Goa attained Statehood. Most Union Territories under 239A at least had benches of High Courts when they attained Statehood. Tripura, Manipur, Megalaya had benches of Gauhati High Court before they got their own High Courts.

The Delhi High Court was established in 1966 before Delhi got its legislature in 1992 with the Constitution (Sixty Ninth Amendment) Act, 1991.

Even a bench of the Madras High Court at Puducherry is unfavourable because:

  • Puducherry will still share the expenses of such a large High Court;
  • Judges might not prefer shuttling between the benches at Chennai, Puducherry and Madurai frequently;
  • The protests against setting up the Madurai bench a decade back should be borne in mind. Though the process in setting up the Madurai bench began in 1980, the Presidential Order was passed enabling the same only in 2002 due to the strong resistance from people with vested interests. In fact, this presidential order was challenged before the Madras High Court in 2004 vide V. Subramanian Vs. Union of India in Writ Petition No. 20038 of 2004, just before commissioning the work in the Madurai bench, the building of which had already been built.

In March 2016, the Department of Justice, Govt of India indicated to this author that the establishment of a High Court for Puducherry will be taken up if the Puducherry Government makes a proposal in this regard. Therefore, if the territorial Government convinces the Centre to pass an Act in the Parliament, Puducherry will get its High Court. RTI information however discloses that though the decision of Puducherry legislature has been informed to the Madras High Court, this has not been intimated to the Government of India which has to introduce the bill in the Parliament.

Only time should answer if ‘Political will’ to benefit a small territory and population can survive a much stronger resistance from people with vested interests.

Nirmalkumar Mohandoss is Advocate at High Court of Madras. Views expressed are personal of the author. The Indian Jurist does not take responsibility for the views expressed or facts stated. 

Puducherry image by Tapanmajumdar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Madras High Court image by Milei.vencel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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