P Wilson, a Rajya Sabha member and a senior lawyer, has proposed the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2020, a Private Member Bill that proposes to decentralize the Supreme Court by establishing four permanent regional benches. A search for Rajya Sabha member Shri P Wilson turned up an item in The New Indian Express headlined ‘DMK seeks permanent regional benches of Supreme Court.‘ According to this article, Shri Wilson, a DMK member, wrote a letter to Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, the then Union Minister for Law and Justice, stating:
“Because the Supreme Court is located so far away from several states, residents of these states are effectively denied their right to approach the court, not just owing to distance, but also due to the high cost of doing so. As a result, these people are effectively denied access to Article 32… I ask you to introduce a Government Bill to modify Article 130 and establish Permanent Regional Supreme Court Benches in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata, so that Article 32 is conveniently accessible and open to everybody”.
Before we read the key highlights of the Bill, let us take a look at the rules governing a private member bill relating to the amendment of the Constitution.
Rules concerning Private Member Bill:
Under constitutional scheme, a Bill to amend Constitution can be introduced in either of the House under art 368(2) of the Constitution. Under Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business for Rajya Sabha, and Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business for Lok Sabha for the introduction of a private member bill, one month notice of a motion for leave to introduce a Bill is mandated. The notice must be accompanied by the Statement of Objects and Reasons. The Rules concerning the procedure of both the Houses of Parliament mandates two and half hours of sitting on Friday for private member transactions.
Key Highlights of the Bill:
The Bill proposes to amend article 130 of the Constitution to provide four Permanent Benches at New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai. Art 130 states about the seat of the Supreme Court shall be at New Delhi.
The Constitution Bench in New Delhi will only hear matters involving constitutional issues. The Chief Justice of India (CJI) would have sole authority over determining whether cases are to be classed as constitutionally significant.
Except for matters to be handled by the Constitution Bench, the Permanent Regional Benches of the Supreme Court have full authority as that of the Supreme Court of India.
All cases (except those to be heard by the Constitution Bench) arising out of the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Delhi, and Chandigarh will be heard by the Supreme Court’s Northern Regional Bench in New Delhi.
All matters (excluding those to be considered by the Constitution Bench) originating out of the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and the Union Territories of Puducherry and Lakshwadeep will be handled by the Supreme Court’s Southern Regional Bench in Chennai.
All cases arising out of West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Assam, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, and the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands will be heard by the Supreme Court’s Eastern Regional Bench in Kolkata (except those that will be heard by the Constitution Bench).
All matters (excluding those to be considered by the Constitution Bench) arising out of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Goa, and the Union Territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu will be handled by the Supreme Court’s Western Regional Bench in Mumbai.
In the interest of administrative justice, the Chief Justice of India may transfer any case pending before any Permanent Regional Bench to any other Permanent Regional Bench or the Constitution Bench.
When two or more regional benches are hearing cases containing the same significant point of law or subject matter, the Chief Justice of India may direct that all such cases be handled by any one of the Regional Benches.
The Chief Justice of India shall appoint Supreme Court justices to the Constitution Bench and the Supreme Court’s Permanent Benches. However, the CJI may not appoint fewer than six Supreme Court Justices to any of the Permanent Regional Benches.
The Chief Justice of India must give priority to judges whose parent High Court or former place of business or residence previous to appointment as a judge is within the territorial jurisdiction of that Permanent Regional Bench while appointing judges for the Permanent Regional Benches.
Nothing shall prohibit the Chief Justice of India from appointing any Supreme Court Judge to the Constitution Bench or any of the Permanent Regional Benches on the basis of seniority or if it is otherwise essential in the administration of justice.
The debate over whether it is time to decentralize the Supreme Court of India appears to have resurfaced in recent days, with a Private Member Bill pending in the Rajya Sabha that seeks to establish Regional Supreme Court Benches. Although the status of the bill has not been updated on the Rajya Sabha’s official website, looking at the Revised List of Business for 23rd July, the private member bill has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha. Time will decide whether the litigants residing in the far west, east and south can get easy access to the Supreme Court of India.
Nancy Srivastava is working as an Intern at Jurisedge and has completed her LLM in Constitutional Law from MNLU, Aurangabad