While lawyers and activists welcome the AIADMK’s promise of a regional apex court in Chennai, the Supreme Court has rejected the idea a number of times.

How a regional Supreme Court in the south could help make justice more accessiblePTI
news Law Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - 18:41

In an ambitious promise last week, the AIADMK vowed in its Lok Sabha manifesto to urge the Indian government to set up a regional branch of the Supreme Court in Chennai for the benefit of 'people of Tamil Nadu and South Indian States.' Although not new, the demand has taken on a new dimension with states increasingly pointing to the ways in which they are inconvenienced by the lack of decentralisation.

While lawyers from Tamil Nadu have long argued for a regional branch of the apex court in Chennai, the Law Commission itself had recommended the idea to the Supreme Court in 2009. The next year, the Full Court of the apex court unanimously rejected the suggestion that there be a Constitution bench in Delhi and Cassation courts (final courts of appeal which can reverse decisions of lower courts) in four other regions of the country. The then UPA government, which made the recommendations, was told that splitting up the Supreme Court would 'affect the country's unitary character.'

Justice for all

TNM spoke to a few lawyers who reiterated the need for justice to be accessible – and that the regional Supreme Court could be a step in that direction. One of them, senior lawyer Sudha Ramalingam, argued that for justice to be served to all, courts must be accessible to all.

Referring to the High Court set up in India, she says, “Just like we have a bench of the Madras High Court in Madurai, there should be a regional Supreme Court in the south. In Maharashtra, there are two regional branches of the Bombay High Court in Aurangabad and Nagpur. Unity is not affected by this.”

“There are a number of barriers to those seeking justice: it is inaccessible, expensive, time-consuming, the language is different, etc.,” Sudha points out. “Many states have been asking for this; it has been a long-standing demand. It is high time that we have a regional Supreme Court.”

The lawyer also says that unlike in the United States, where the Supreme Court is a constitutional court, the Indian Supreme Court is also a court of appeal. That makes its accessibility all the more important.


Another argument for a regional Supreme Court, especially for those in south India, is affordability. Antony Rubin, a Chennai-based animal rights activist who frequents the courts says that a regional apex court could be a major money-saver. “Travelling to Delhi and back is quite expensive. That is also a reason why so many cases don’t go to the Supreme Court.”

Antony gives the example of aspersions cast on S Anitha, the medical aspirant whose suicide over National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) shook Tamil Nadu in 2017. She had approached the Supreme Court stating that the NEET exam for medical admissions particularly disadvantaged rural students, especially those from Tamil Nadu. Many who were in favour of the central government admission test had accused Anitha of ulterior motives, questioning how she had the resources to approach the court.  

“If not in Chennai, the court could be somewhere in the south. The courts have equal and sometimes even more power than the government, so they should be accessible to the common citizens,” Antony asserts.

However, a regional apex court will be of little use if it is unable to fill vacancies as is the case with the judiciary in many places. Antony points out that even tribunals and benches that sit out of the different regions in the country have only few judges to process the thousands of pending cases. “For example, we have the National Green Tribunal in all four corners of the country but there are no judges. So, what is the point of having a court? Having a Supreme Court in the south is cool but will they have judges? There is a shortage, even in the Madras High Court.” 

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