Only 40% district courts have functional washrooms: Vidhi report on judicial infrastructure
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Only 40% district courts have functional washrooms: Vidhi report on judicial infrastructure

Aditya AK

Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy has come out with a report highlighting the lapses in judicial infrastructure in district courts across the country.

Titled Building Better Courts: Surveying the Infrastructure of India’s District Courts, the report explores the link between access to justice and judicial infrastructure by assessing 665 district court complexes across India. The survey was supplemented with interviews from litigants to understand the user experience while accessing courts. A total of 6650 litigants were selected for this purpose.

The report notes that the National Court Management System (NCMS) had drawn a link between judicial infrastructure and pendency of cases. To address this, NCMS had laid down key benchmarks and a framework for minimum standards that court complexes must follow to enhance access to justice in terms of infrastructure. 

Keeping these benchmarks in mind, Vidhi’s study evaluates the judicial infrastructure in the district courts based on nine parameters. These parameters were identified as: Getting There, Navigation, Waiting Areas, Hygiene, Barrier-Free Access, Case Display, Security, Amenities and Website.

The following are some of the key findings of the report, based on the aforementioned parameters:

  • 81% or 539 court complexes are accessible via public transport, whereas 80% or 532 of the court complexes have designated parking. 
  • Of the litigants interviewed, the majority (53%) used public transport, while 43% used private transport to get to the court complex. 4% walked to the court complex. 
  • Only 20% district courts (133 out of 665 court complexes) had guide maps and 45% (300 out of 665 court complexes) had help desks.
  • Litigants reported that waiting areas needed more seating (69% or 4602 litigants), better ventilation (37% or 2468 litigants) and better cleanliness (26% or 1734 litigants). 
  • While 88% or 585 court complexes had washrooms, only 40% (266 out of 665 court complexes) had washrooms that were fully functioning. Only 53% (354 out of 665 court complexes) were present on every floor of the court building.
  • Goa, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Mizoram had the least number of court complexes with functional washrooms. Around 100 district court complexes did not have a washroom for women. 
  • Only 27% or 180 court complexes were accessible through ramps and/or lifts, whereas only 11% or 73 court complexes had designated washrooms for persons with disabilities, and only 2% or 13 court complexes had built-in visual aid features. 
  • The district court complex at Chandigarh stood out as the only court complex in the entire country to have all three features, i.e., ramps, tactile pavements, and designated washrooms. 
  • Only 26% of the court complexes had electronic case display boards both at the entrance and in the waiting areas. 
  • ATM, a bank branch, a canteen, first-aid care services, oath commissioners, photocopy facility, a police booth, a post office, public notaries, stamp vendors, and typists. If a court complex had all of these services, it was considered to be a ‘full-service’ court complex. Only 39% of the states in India had full service court complexes. The least-provided facilities included bank branch (65%), post office (63%), and first-aid care (59%), while services such as photocopier (100%), typists (98%) and stamp vendors (97%) were mostly available. 
  • Only 11% of the court complexes had a working baggage scanning facility, while 71% had fire extinguishers and 48% had emergency exit signs. 
  • 89% of the websites uploaded causelists, case orders and case status. Court Maps (36%) and Judges on Leave (32%) were the least available features. Only Chandigarh and Delhi had websites for every court complex with all the surveyed features. 
  • Delhi (90%), Kerala (84%), Meghalaya (75%), Haryana (70%) and Himachal Pradesh (70%) are among the best-performing states in India. 
  • States with the poorest overall judicial infrastructure are Bihar (26%), Manipur (29%), Nagaland (29%), West Bengal (30%) and Jharkhand (35%). 

The report also makes a number of short-term and long-term suggestions to improve judicial infrastructure in the country. Some of these are:

Union Law Ministry and State Law Departments

  1. Publish a detailed break-up of judicial budget and utilisation annually in addition to information about utilisation and unspent balances. 
  2. Conceptualise a scheme for renovation and maintenance of older, existing court complexes, to align with Universal Design principles. 
  3. All judicial data in the public domain should be error-free, in formats (e.g., .csv) that support aggregate research studies. 
  4. Coordinate the upgradation of district court websites, including designing them to be accessible to persons with disabilities. 

Supreme Court

  1. Mandate all High Courts to submit annual infrastructure status reports, with information on budgetary spends, and steps taken for the maintenance and renovation of existing court complexes, in addition to building new ones. 
  2. Re-constitute the NCMS committee with the goal of revising the baseline set in 2012, with inputs from all key stakeholders. 
  3. Prioritise revamping facilitating all judicial services in line with the accessibility checklist released by Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. 

High Courts

  1. Conduct or commission periodic audits of District & Subordinate court complexes. 
  2. Mandate all District Courts to submit annual infrastructure status report, with information on budgetary spends, and steps taken for the maintenance and renovation of court complexes. Oversee the setting up of infrastructure grievance redressal cells in District Courts along with an online complaint portal where the general public can report their grievances. 
  3. Oversee the setting up of infrastructure grievance redressal cells in District Courts along with an online complaint portal where the general public can report their grievances. 

District Courts

  1. Set up an infrastructure grievance redressal cell and designate an appropriate authority from the Registry within the court complexes. 
  2. Prepare annual reports on infrastructure, based on requirements laid down by parent High Courts. 

The report also contains suggestions to various Union Ministries, civil society organisations, lawyers, and litigants.

As noted in the conclusion,

“More attention also needs to be paid to court infrastructure as an issue affecting judicial performance, and should be treated at par with pendencies and delays, given its direct, tangible impact on access to justice.”

Read the full report here:

Building-Better-Courts-National-Report.pdf
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