As a media house, from the very beginning, we have been extremely vocal about the Indian judiciary – and that’s why we have also started our bimonthly supplement of Governance Watch with a special focus on the judiciary. We strongly believe that a poor justice delivery mechanism has been the root cause of most of our problems. It goes without saying that India has a weak, or rather a limping justice delivery system, which makes sure that justice is denied in most cases; and even if delivered, it does not hold any value, thanks to the time (read lifetime) it takes to be delivered. By the Centre’s own admission, there is a staggering number of nearly three crore court cases pending at several stages in different courts of India. This situation is a deliberate creation of our successive governments. If criminals were to be punished, how would they rule?
Thus, to make the rule of criminals easy, the governments in India over the years have deliberately kept the judicial system in our country dysfunctional. It serves the purpose of the legal fraternity as well. Thanks to the years or decades that it takes to execute a case and to take it to its culmination, the legal fraternity invariably ends up making a windfall profit. And thanks to the absence of a time-bound justice delivery mechanism, making moolah is not at all a challenge for our legal fraternity, as they are quite adept at purposefully making cases hang on for years. The only thing that we nowadays talk about is corruption. And the one and only solution for solving this issue of corruption is a functional judicial system. Corruption and greed are globally prevalent; yet these touch far less lives in the USA than in India simply because the American judicial system is functional while ours is dysfunctional. In America, they have ten times more judges per million people than in India; so there is a fear of immediate punishment – while in India, there is no such fear of punishment.
Thus, there are two key things that the government must do to make our judicial system functional. The first is to take the number of our judges to about ten times the current figures. If we are to try and achieve such standards, we need to have about 100,000 or so more judges. It sounds huge, but is surely achievable; and in a span of five years too. Therefore, to have 20,000 additional judges per year, we have to budget for approximately Rs. 6,000 crores per year additionally, assuming that the expenses around a judge and his office assistants put together would be (and is actually definitely) not more than Rs. 30,00,000 per year. Given our massive annual budget and given that at least we at the IIPM Think Tank have been lobbying for the same through our alternate budgets for more than 11 years now, it’s a shame to see budgets being passed year after year with no focus on the judicial machinery and with no substantive budgets being allocated for improving the said system – that too after the government bravely declared that by 2012, all the backlog of our 3 crore pending cases will be cleared. It’s just a year more to go and nothing concrete has happened in that direction. The second thing the government must do is pass a statutory law in the Parliament that would guarantee and typically force the delivery of justice in a timely manner. In developed countries like the US, for petty cases, people filing cases in the morning get justice literally by the evening. Even if India doesn’t end up being so fast, still the concept of having a law that enforces that a case be adjudged within a stipulated time would be good enough.
Of late, to me personally, our law ministry was doing relatively good and so was our judiciary. The honourable Supreme Court of India has been displaying a proactive behaviour with respect to burning social and political issues (of course, it indicates the failure of the other two pillars of the nation viz. legislature and the executive at large). The decisions taken by the Supreme Court since the last couple of months are in the areas that largely come under the ambit of the executive and not the court per se – almost akin to “ethical hacking”. The judiciary for that matter was designed to oversee the law breaching incidents and not spearhead the law implementation operandi.
Traditionally and fundamentally, courts functioning were restricted to provide justice to aggrieved parties on the basis of evidences collected by the executive and by following the laws drafted by the legislature. However, and although it could be construed as trespassing beyond their decision areas, the court’s efforts have been laudable. Take for example the appointment by the Supreme Court of the special investigation team (SIT) to probe money laundering cases and to go deeper into the black money issue; or even the action taken by the Supreme Court against New Delhi police officials after Baba Ramdev’s protest against black money and corruption – both of which should have been initiated by the executive or the legislature or the state machinery. In both of these cases, the Supreme Court went a step ahead to protect the very essence of democracy, and this is highly commendable. Similarly, the order to distribute food grains – which otherwise is rotting in granaries – to poor people was taken by the court again. Under all circumstances, such orders are meant to be announced by the executive, as food storage and distribution are responsibilities of the state administration. But by going beyond its defined role, the Supreme Court has come to the rescue of millions. Moreover, this apex institution with its near-clean record has kept its head high and continued the legacy of protecting the nation – unlike within the other two pillars of democracy, there have been literally very few cases of corruption in this institution.
Under our ex-minister for law and justice, Mr. Veerappa Moily, the entire judicial machinery was being overhauled. By facilitating the release of 7.5 lac petty offenders languishing in prison for years – their only crime being that they were poor – Moily at least did what no other law minister before him had done. His heart looked to be at the right place. His vision to take care of pending court cases was yet to be realised – and then he was shifted out of the ministry. Rather than going into the reasons behind the decision, I would rather say that our newly appointed law minister, Mr. Salman Khurshid, is hugely capable and comes with a great reputation and background. I only hope that he will go a step ahead of his predecessor and see to it that our judicial system really becomes functional! If he does that, then he would have laid the foundation stone for a non corrupt democracy, something that is the need of the hour. </p
- 14 July 2011 |
- Arindam on Indian Politics