Budgeting Better for Courts

The State Budgets for the Judiciary

The judiciary in every state consists of both the High Courts as well as the District Judiciary. As per the Constitution of India, the High Courts exercise the power of superintendence over all the courts within its jurisdiction. As a result, the High Court draws up budgetary estimates for not just themselves but also the District Judiciary. These estimates are then sent to either the Law Department or Home Department of each State Government. These departments will then forward the proposals to the Finance Department of the State Government which may accept the proposal as is or revise the requests before moving an appropriation bill before the State Legislature for a vote before releasing any funds from the treasury. Only the salaries and allowances of High Court judges are charged directly to the Consolidated Fund of the State without being voted upon by the State Legislature.

Information pertaining to the budgetary allocations and expenditure for both the High Courts and the District Judiciary is required to be made publicly available under Section 4 of the Right to Information Act on the websites of each High Court. Unfortunately, only the Bombay High Court, Himachal Pradesh High Court and Uttarakhand High Court have made detailed disclosures in this regard. We therefore had to file RTI applications with the Law Departments of the State Governments and the High Courts, requesting information for a period of 5 years. In total we filed RTI applications with 24 High Courts and 29 State Law Departments, asking for budget estimates, expenditure statements and surrender statements for the period between 2014-2018. Templates of the RTI applications filed with the State Law Department and the High Courts can be accessed over here and here.

A. High Courts that provided good quality replies to our RTI applications
Of the 24 High Courts in the country, only 6 High Courts at Delhi, Gauhati, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab & Haryana and Uttarakhand gave us detailed budget statements for both the High Courts and the District Judiciary. However, the data pertaining to District Judiciary shared by Punjab and Haryana High Court did not contain expenditure statements, and hence has not been included on this portal. Another 3 High Courts, at Gujarat, Jharkhand and Patna gave us the required data for only the High Courts and not the District Judiciary. Tripura, on the other hand provided us with the financial statements of only the District and Subordinate Judiciary and not the High Court. We are working towards filling these gaps in the information on this portal.

B. High Courts that rejected or failed to reply to our RTI applications
Of the remaining High Courts, those at Rajasthan, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Allahabad rejected our RTI applications on procedural grounds under their respective RTI Rules. Similarly, the Jammu & Kashmir High Court rejected our application because at the time the state had its own RTI Act under which non-residents could not request for information. The Hyderabad High Court (we filed this application before the High Court was bifurcated) rejected our RTI application citing a judgment of the Madras High Court that file notings and internal deliberations of the High Court are not required to be shared under the RTI Act. Ironically enough, the Madras High Court itself did share detailed budgetary information with us which we will update on the website in the next round.
The Chhattisgarh High Court did not reply to our RTI application.

C. High Courts that provided poor quality replies or transferred the RTI applications
The Calcutta High Court replied to our application by merely providing a link to the website of the West Bengal Department of Finance. The website did not have the information that was sought by us. The Himachal Pradesh High Court partially replied to the RTI application by providing us with the disclosures made on their website under Section 4 of the RTI Act. However this disclosure only had the data for the year 2017-2018. This information was not very helpful as it lacked the granularity which was of interest to us.
The Manipur High Court, the Sikkim High Court and Meghalaya High Court replied to our RTI applications transferring the applications to their respective State Law Departments whose replies in turn were not very helpful. The Bombay High Court gave us the information in Marathi which on translation was not very useful to us because it lacked the granular detail that we sought. We are continuing to make the effort to source such data to provide a complete picture for each High Court.

D. Responses from the Law Departments
For most part, the State Law Departments were not very helpful in providing us with the required data. Law Departments of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Uttarakhand transferred our application to different departments from where we received information relevant to the Centrally Sponsored Scheme, Finance Commission grants or State Legal Services Authority. We visited Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh Law Departments from where we received information on proposals for the Centrally Sponsored Schemes and Finance Commission. North Eastern states too primarily gave information pertaining to capital expenditure only.
Law Departments of Assam, Telangana and West Bengal did not reply to the RTI Application. Law Departments of Kerala, Odisha and Tamil Nadu rejected the applications for deficiencies in the mode of payment of the application fee. The Punjab Law Department rejected our application on the grounds that they did not have such information.

E. Understanding the data
From the responses, we observed that different States follow different accounting and recording practices. In order to make the data uniform for the purpose of meaningful visualization on the portal we classified all the data into 3 expense heads for each court-
1) Human Resources - This includes components like salaries, wages and allowances of judicial officers and staff.
2) Operations - Office expenses, utility charges, rent, publication etc. are included here.
3) Others - This includes miscellaneous expenses such as technology, building costs and other uncategorized or non-recurring expenses.
The portal maps the data for judicial funding for a period of 4 years. It enables a comparison of the information across states, court types, expense heads and utilisation.

F. Limitations of our current data set
The obvious limitation of this website is that we have been able to visualise the data for only those High Courts which provided us with the requisite information in the format that we requested. If a High Court failed to provide us with the granular data that we asked for, we were unable to provide a visualisation of the detailed break up. We are currently trying to get the required information through various sources.

Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Judicial Infrastructure

The Department of Justice (DoJ) implements the Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Development of Infrastructure Facilities for the Judiciary for assisting the State Governments in constructing courtrooms and residential units for the District and Subordinate Judiciary with a view to address the shortfall of infrastructure vis a vis the sanctioned strength. The Central and the State governments share the responsibility of providing for funds under the Scheme, currently the sharing ratio is 60:40 (i.e. 60% by the Centre, 40% by the State Governments) for the major States and 90:10 for North Eastern. In 2015, the Scheme was revised to extend the sharing pattern applicable to the North Eastern States to the Himalayan States. The Union Territories have always received 100% of the funding from the Centre. The Scheme was launched in 1993 and has been approved by the Union Cabinet to continue till March 2020.

The portal documents the release of Central funds between 2011 and 2018 to the State Governments. The Data represents the figures as on 8th May 2018 and has been collected from the website of the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law & Justice, Government of India. It can be found here. The information in xlsx format can be found . North Eastern States, Himalayan States, Union Territories and the other States are represented in three different tabs on the portal as they receive funds in different ratios from the Centre. The visualization helps to capture the differential pattern of release in funds for different States and the variation in the amounts over the years.

From the figures it emerges that certain states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Punjab have received large sums from the Centre under the Scheme while on the other hand, Goa. Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Odisha have received substantially less amount. From the information disclosed by the DoJ, it is difficult to ascertain the rationale for the disparity in the allocation for the states. A detailed report of ours which evaluates the Scheme can be accessed here.

Thirteenth Finance Commission

The Finance Commission assists the State Governments by recommending Grants-in-Aid for specific purposes. While various Finance Commissions have allocated money for the judiciary, the Thirteenth Finance Commission for the award period 2010-2015 allocated 5000 Crores to State Governments for “Improvement in Justice Delivery”. This grant was aimed at providing support to improve the functioning of the judiciary across 8 initiatives
(i) Morning/Evening courts,
(ii) Lok Adalats and Legal Aid
(iii) Training of Judicial Officers
(iv) Training of Public Prosecutors
(v) Heritage Court Buildings
(vi) State Judicial Academies
(vii) ADR Centres and
(viii) Court Managers.
This was the largest ever grant made by the 13th Finance Commission for the justice system.

The data regarding the grants and utilization has been sourced from the website of the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law & Justice, Government of India and can be found here. The information in xlsx format can be found . Out of the Rs 5000 crores that were recommended by the Commission, only Rs. 1775 crores were released to the State Governments. Out of this, only about 49% of the total grants were utilized by the states combined. This raises important questions on whether the judiciary is underfunded as is often claimed, or whether the system in place fails to utilize the funds which are already being made available to it.

Court type
Expense head
Financial Information
  • Note:
  • 1. Working judge strength as of June 2018.

Data visualisation by howindialives.com