Improving India’s justice delivery system: Why infrastructure matters - Hindustan Times
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Improving India’s justice delivery system: Why infrastructure matters

ByORF
Nov 29, 2022 02:51 PM IST

The article has been authored by Niranjan Sahoo and Jibran A Khan.

The multiple crises besetting India’s justice delivery system are related to a large extent to what the Chief Justice of India (CJI) calls “dilapidated” infrastructure. Indeed, it is empirically known that there is a positive correlation between adequacy of infrastructure—whether courtrooms, chambers, sanitation facilities, or digital connectivity—and productivity in the delivery of justice. This brief highlights the stark gaps in infrastructure in India’s district and subordinate courts, which struggle with pendency due to an acute shortage of basic infrastructure. It studies the shortcomings of the central scheme launched nearly 30 years ago to address precisely these gaps, and offers recommendations for overcoming the challenges.

According to the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms, adequate judicial infrastructure is a prerequisite for reducing delays in cases. (HT File)
According to the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms, adequate judicial infrastructure is a prerequisite for reducing delays in cases. (HT File)

The state of a court’s infrastructure can have a massive impact on the dispensation of justice. For example, a well-designed and adequately equipped courtroom can help enhance the productivity of a sitting judge; it is also true for lawyers and their chambers, when preparing for their cases. Perhaps no one in India understands this better than the current CJI, N.V. Ramana, who is on a crusade for an urgent overhaul of the country’s judicial infrastructure at the district and subordinate levels. Expressing his concern at the slow progress in infrastructural projects at the district and subordinate courts, the CJI remarked in October 2021: “Good judicial infrastructure for courts in India has always been an afterthought. It is because of this mindset that courts still operate from dilapidated structures making it difficult to effectively perform their functions.”

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Yet, Ramana is not the first CJI to have flagged this. Other CJIs before him have sought the attention of the government on the state of India’s judicial infrastructure. In 2016, then CJI TS Thakur became visibly upset as he stated a long list of backlogs, judicial vacancies, and infrastructure woes impacting justice delivery and judicial credibility. Such delays in the movement of cases disproportionately affects the poor and marginalised, who do not have the financial means nor the social and political connections to endure the lengths required to see their cases through.

The positive correlation between availability of judicial infrastructure and justice delivery is empirically well-established. According to the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms, adequate judicial infrastructure is a prerequisite for reducing delays in cases. The National Court Management System (NCMS), constituted by the Supreme Court, found a direct connection between physical infrastructure, personnel strength, and digital infrastructure, and pendency. Indeed, statistics show that India’s subordinate judiciary struggles with pendency due to an acute shortage of courtrooms, secretarial and support staff, and residential accommodation for judges.

In early 2020, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic made it even more clear that infrastructure, particularly digital, is key to the functioning of the judicial system. Courts were forced to conduct their business in virtual mode, but with only one-third of the lower courts having proper digital facilities, justice delivery suffered a blow. The Covid-19 induced disruptions since March 2020 have pushed the pendency of cases to 19%, taking it to a record 4.4 crore.

This brief aims to understand the extent of infrastructural crises (in physical and digital infrastructure) in the country’s lower courts. It reviews the status of implementation of a central scheme, launched in 1993, to build infrastructure at the district and subordinate courts. It analyses the barriers and offers evidence-based recommendations to make the scheme more effective.

The paper can be accessed by clicking here

The article has been authored by Niranjan Sahoo and Jibran A Khan.

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