Interviews

In Conversation with Justice (Retd.) GC Bharuka [Part 2]

Anuj Agrawal

In part 2 of the interview with Justice GC Bharuka, he talks about how his mission to computerise all courts in India, how the plans have fallen short of implementation, and a lot more.

On December 8, 2004 the Ministry of Law and Justice announced the establishment of an “e-Committee” for “monitoring” the use and implementation of technology in the Indian judiciary. The first Chairman of this committee was none other than Justice Bharuka; the CJI at that time was Justice RC Lahoti.

“We were entrusted with making of national policy on all the facets of computerisation and automation of all courts in the country.

Within six months, we collected data from all the states in the country, and made a presentation in the Supreme Court. This data is probably the most valuable data of its kind in the country! How many courts are there in the country with their locations, what is the pendency in each court, etc.

Even now, the Department of Justice does not know with certainty how many subordinate courts are in the country. They simply do not have that data with perfection!”

But what about the annual reports published by the Supreme Court?

“That is not the correct data. The High Courts themselves do not know how many courts are under their administration. Ask the Department of Justice how many judges are there. Do we have 15,000 or 17,000 subordinate courts? Ask [the DoJ] and they will not be knowing.”

Eventually, the Committee came out with a national policy, a remarkably succinct national policy on computerization of all the courts in India. Unfortunately, most of it has remained on paper except dumping hardware in the court halls.

“We had wanted to implement the policy in 5 years, that is by 2011. Yet not even a fraction of what had been visualised in this policy has been achieved in terms of speedy, cost effective and affordable justice and it will not be completed in the next fifty years if it goes on with way it is being pursued. ”

Why?

“They do not see it from the point of view of the citizens. They have not made any scientific study of the Indian judicial system and the causes of delay and how technology can remedy them. Their objective is entirely different. This is not their priority anymore. The priority is now who should be removed and who should be appointed to head the project.

The other is simply of passing the buck. The judiciary blames the executive, the executive blames the judiciary. Nobody wants to take the ownership (responsibility) of the project. But nobody bothers for whom the judicial system exists. The litigants and their problems have become secondary.”

That point is back again; the need of the common man is ignored. And even now, the judge is unwilling to give up.

“In one month, I can collect basic data from the entire country. That too in a given format: how many courts we have, the court infrastructure, the number of judges. I can do that right now, but the decision-makers have to agree.

In three months, we can have details on how many cases are pending, what work our judges do on any given day.”

Prod him on just how this would be done, and the details spill out. It turns out that under the E-committee, every judge in India was given one laptop in 2007. And more.

“This laptop was given to them to use on the court dais. Each judge has a laptop, each judge has internet connectivity. In 2007, we got all judges internet connectivity in their homes, and in the court halls. Every single judge was given a laser printer for use in their court halls. I fought [against] the government, the Department of Justice, the NIC, the IAS lobby.” 

Now that the judges had the hardware, they were given three months of training and internet connectivity. The idea, as laid out in the national policy, was to have a completely paperless judicial system.

The policy was not limited to courts alone; there were provisions for using technology in conjunction with other government agencies.

The adoption of technology was visualised at multiple levels, with a greater focus at the trial court level. The suggestions are practical. And relevant too. Take for instance, using audio-video recordings of court proceedings. Similarly, jails can be interlinked with the courts.

“I would say a better idea would be that of recording of evidence digitally – there are courts where judges write this. There are so many errors that can creep in. Let this be recorded digitally so that if there are any errors, later it can be corrected. Automatically, the number of errors will come down.

Instead, you jump to e-filing. This has nothing to do with speedy justice, it is not what the country needs right now. Right now, 90% of the courts are only 10-20 kilometres away from any litigant’s home.

The client goes to the lawyer, the munshi (clerk) types the petition, then files it. So then why are we struggling with e-filing business?”

This is something that he has written about a number of times. Instead of focusing on “this e-filing business”, Justice Bharuka says that the country’s policy makers need to look at management, and optimisation, of the existing judicial manpower and infrastructure. Take the case of subordinate courts, and their judges.

“They sit for about five hours a day on the dais. But nearly three out of these five hours will be spent on non-productive matters like granting adjournments, or listening to arguments that have nothing to do with the merit of the case.

Now if we can convert this 60-70% of the time into productive work, or even 50% of the time, then instead of 3 crore cases, as claimed, we can dispose of nearly 6 crore cases a year. We can virtually wipe out our pendency in three to four years.

We must have capacity building for judges, so that their judicial time is consumed in productive work.”

He does not stop there. There are some specific arguments made, arguments which reveal a methodical study of the dispensation of justice.

“From filing to disposal, there are seven principal stages involved. The first stage would be removal of defects, we can automate this. Then instead of taking years, the removal would be done in a matter of days.

Then when the case goes to the judge for issuing summons. There is one button to click, and automatically the summons would be sent to the defendant’s mail box, if he has one. The government is a party to at least 60% of the litigation, and all their official e-mail ids are available. There are good number of similar litigants.

Then, there are people who do not have e-mail. So for summons, there is money and staff involved. Now instead, what if we capture all the data (such as respondent’s name, address, etc.) at the initial stage itself? The minute the judge clicks on a button, the data will be picked up from the database.

Take a print out of this and hand it over to the process server. Manage the process through ICT System. It is as simple as that. These days, courier services like BlueDart use internet-enable handheld devices to instantly update the delivery status. Similar technology can be used to ensure tracking of service through process servers.

Once the service has been completed, you have won half the battle.”

What comes next?

“Then either charges are framed or issues are framed – this is the responsibility of the judge concerned. We can track this at the central-level as also at the district-level.

As this would be publicly known, there will be a higher degree of transparency. The country’s NGO’s, the media – they will be able to analyse and highlight. The pressure will be built.”

And what happens currently?

“The system is so opaque. Every judicial officer is expected to send weekly, and monthly reports of his/her work.

Think of all the resources wasted right now – printing, postage, data collection, and analysis. All manual. In the High Court, and the Supreme Courts there are departments to look into this. It all can be completely automated with absolute authenticity and made available online.

There is more. Imagine if we could capture the list of witnesses, the evidence, the relief sought for, etc. Then, when the judgment is being written, all the judge has to just click on a button to get the entire list. Think how simple it would make it for the judge.

I have done this work. It is possible.”

The use of technology can also be used by the lawyer’s fraternity, more specifically institutions like the Bar Council of India.

“How many lawyers do we have in the country? Of which Bar Associations are they the members? When did they register in the Bar Council – all of these are available. All that is needed is to enter the data in the system.

I have told the BCI Chairman that I would give them the free software to have complete information on all the law colleges, and bar councils. He said that he would place it before the committee.”

If this suggestion had been taken seriously, then undoubtedly the current problems of enrolment of lawyers would have been reduced. But, just like the e-committee, the suggestions and recommendations did not see the light of the day.

According to Justice Bharuka, the NIC soon “hijacked” the e-committee’s objectives, and sought to focus on purchasing hardware instead of developing a software by making an in-depth study of the system’s requirements.

Since then, there has been plenty of talk but little action, says Bharuka. His national policy lies untouched in respect of its prime objectives of using technology of providing speedy and quality justice, and now nearly forgotten.

Worse, common perceptions over pendency, and how it is to be resolved, are deeply flawed. For instance, one of the common complaints is about lack of judges;

This is a simplistic understanding at best, says the former High Court judge.

“There will be certain regions where there is minimal litigation. So then what is the point of measuring the population? Court strength should not be based on our population but on the work load of the courts.

Then there are more complexities. Say for instance, a court has five hundred cases, but all of them are relating to petty offences, which can be disposed of in a day. Or you may have a single case where the framing of issues only may take three days.

What I had suggested was that we should have a time-consumption based formula. We know the kinds of cases that are filed, we have categories. Now, in each category of case, we need to know the time taken from filling of the case to the final verdict. How many judicial hours are being spent in the entire process?

We need to calculate this on a national basis. It is not difficult.

Then we look at the amount of judicial time available to each judge. Take it five hours of court time every day for twenty-two days a month. Multiply that by twelve to get the amount of annual judicial time available to each judge.

So now, you have an idea of maximum judicial time available, and average judicial hours spent on each category of case. You can plan it on this basis.

This can be done, mind you. This can be done by developing proper software.”

Clearly, this is something that he believes in quite deeply. And he is determined not to stop.

“We do our work. Perhaps someday it will benefit our country.”

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