India’s biggest failing

We do not need the Chief Minister of Delhi to sleep on a pavement for us to know that there are some fundamental flaws in Indian democracy.

Published:January 26, 2014 3:29 am

E2MWe do not need the Chief Minister of Delhi to sleep on a pavement for us to know that there are some fundamental flaws in Indian democracy. So in my humble opinion, it was a silly thing to do. But, as I have expressed grave misgivings about the Aam Aadmi Party long before the shenanigans of last week, I have no intention of writing yet another piece on their juvenile antics. Instead, since it is Republic Day, I intend to use the occasion for some stocktaking. Where does India stand today? What are the achievements? What are the failings?

In our short journey as a modern nation state, we have nurtured our democracy so well that its roots today are strong and deep. This is our biggest achievement. With a general election months away, we can spend a smug moment revelling in the thought that if people are as sick of the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh government as they appear to be, they will have a chance to boot it out. If despite deep disappointment and despair, Rahul Gandhi succeeds in the pretension that he is the new face of our oldest political party, then he is a bigger leader than this columnist has given him credit for. And, if his main challenger succeeds in winning enough seats for the BJP to acquire a desperately needed new look, then good luck to him. May he succeed in making real the dream of prosperity and governance that he has sold so well in his campaign.

Whenever I take stock of India’s failing, the first thing that comes to mind is the failure of our criminal justice system to keep up with the times. Last week, this failure became more horribly obvious than usual because of the rape of the young girl on the orders of a village kangaroo court. Where were police? Why are they never around to stop these barbaric things from happening? Would there still be this kind of primitive justice if India’s real courts had more firmly imposed the rule of law?

To find answers to these questions, I went to see Harish Salve. He is not just an outstanding lawyer but one who has shown the courage to speak frankly about things that go beyond his immediate brief.

When I asked him why the Indian justice system had failed to keep pace with the needs of India’s people, he said, without a moment’s hesitation, that the biggest problem was that there were too few judges. Most western democracies have around 200 judges per thousand people. In India, we have 11. And, there are vacancies, Harish pointed out, but who wants to become a judge if at the end of your career you do not have enough money even to buy yourself a decent home? Judges are paid peanuts even by Indian standards, so the first thing that must improve are their salaries.

The second thing that needs to be curbed is the passion Indian officials have for litigation. Harish reminded me that nearly 80 percent of the cases that clog up the justice system have the government as the litigant. Most of these cases are the result of officialdom’s inability to provide minimum standards of governance like, for example, computerising land records so that litigation becomes unnecessary. Harish suggested setting up commercial courts to deal with corporate cases as a way of taking pressure off the system. And, he said, discipline needed to be brought urgently into the system by giving lawyers deadlines and enforcing them strictly.

Reforming the criminal justice system has to be at the top of the next prime minister’s priorities because no democracy can function as it should if there is no rule of law. This cannot be imposed by street fighting as the Law Minister of Delhi tried to do recently, it can only be imposed by ensuring that the criminal justice system works effectively. It has been sick for a while now without any government doing anything to make it better. When I asked Harish Salve why nobody had done anything about it before, he said that most governments preferred not to spend the money needed to bring about the reforms. It is because of this that governments have been able to trample all over important judgments and remain derelict in their own duties by dragging citizens into court cases that they know will go on forever.

If this state of affairs continues, we will see more and more vigilantism of the kind that the Kejriwal government has perfected. And, we will continue to see kangaroo courts deliver their primitive, inhuman forms of justice. A good beginning today would be to try the rapists from Bengal publicly in a fast track court and sentence to death those ‘village elders’ who ordered the rape as punishment.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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  1. K
    KrishnaBhagawan
    Feb 1, 2014 at 3:18 pm
    Its per million not per thousand
    Reply
    1. A
      amit
      Jan 26, 2014 at 3:07 pm
      We want democracy and not dynastic monarchy in India.Jai Hind
      Reply
      1. A
        Anand Agarwal
        Jan 27, 2014 at 3:53 pm
        india is for the riches, by the riches and to the riches. Now AAP is going to change this.
        Reply
        1. A
          Anurag Atul
          Jan 26, 2014 at 6:59 am
          Nice article , but see how much interest courts have took in Gujarat, have they took same interest in illegal immigration , we need additional judges, Lawyers with Good ry
          Reply
          1. S
            sanjeev vasishtha
            Jan 28, 2014 at 3:57 am
            Good article Tavleen, we need more from you. Wonder if you are planning to write a comment on the silly interview granted by Rahul baba to Arnab- your subtle humor will be much appreciated
            Reply
            1. V
              vikram
              Jan 26, 2014 at 4:43 pm
              Modi has been emphasizing this issue...he even took up the matter of doing away with long vacations for judges to clear up pendency in a meet of senior judges but got a hostile response...the good part is that he is well aware of the problem and we can expect him to focus on it if he becomes PM
              Reply
              1. S
                Sarwan Singh
                Jan 26, 2014 at 4:52 am
                Chief Minister of Delhi says that he has read consution & he says that it is not written any where in consution that chief minister can not hold sit ins. Perhaps those who drafted consution didn't visualize that a day will come when chief ministers instead of becoming guardians of consution will become mob leaders & will not think twice before putting the people of the state they are supposed to serve to great inconvenience through sit ins, night time raids & street protests.
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                1. B
                  Buddy
                  Jan 28, 2014 at 7:41 am
                  200 judges per thousand people? Wow.....that means 1 judge for every family :)
                  Reply
                  1. H
                    Harish Kiran
                    Jan 27, 2014 at 3:15 pm
                    Yes, it was formed to use it against Indians to keep us in check in every possible way.
                    Reply
                    1. I
                      Indrajit B
                      Jan 27, 2014 at 12:10 pm
                      This article is a good one but just the tip of iceberg and leaves lot to be said!
                      Reply
                      1. J
                        Jafo Jafo
                        Jan 27, 2014 at 5:33 am
                        it is not just the inconvenience to the people alone .....aap leaders are attempting to spin the issue into a question of whether cm cannot protest through dharna ...no harm in chief minister doing a dharna....many other cms also did that previously.....it is breaking the law by the chief minister that is unconsutional..... here he did this dharna at a place where section 144 was promulgated.and that is illegal......police should have arrested him and disd the crowd who gathered at such a place....now that the supreme court has taken up this issue let us see what comes out it.....
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                        1. M
                          M S
                          Jan 27, 2014 at 5:02 am
                          Good article.
                          Reply
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                            Kayar Raghavan
                            Jan 26, 2014 at 11:46 am
                            Harish Salve's suggestions are good but nowhere near good enough. Follow, for example, the UK's more modern legal system (we have the legacy system left by the Brits). 1. Fix the dates & times of hearing soon, announce it and conclude the hearing in one sitting lasting about a week, making the attendance mandatory 2. Give no adjournment except in the rarest of rare cases, if any 3. Do not provide for interim appeals (appeals at every turn / stage) 4. Announce the judgement date & pronounce the judgement on that day 5. Stop the media from debating Live cases and provide for very strict penalties against breachFear of punishment in the immediate future (as against after 20 yrs plus umpteen appeals/ escalation) will work wonders. It is entirely another matter that punishments themselves have got to be more severe than what they are today, in UK. (The USA is the opposite when it comes to severity of punishments).One must witness the professionalism in UK courts to learn / understand what I am talking about.
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                              amar
                              Jan 27, 2014 at 7:37 pm
                              mistake in the article.It says there are 200 judges for every 1000 people in western countries.That is ridiculous.That means one judge for five people? May be you meant, 200 judges for every 100, 000 people?
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                              1. M
                                Manish
                                Jan 27, 2014 at 12:37 pm
                                @Vinod- Absolutely Correct.. Now Police will be vigilante enough to protect us from AAP Hooliganism.
                                Reply
                                1. O
                                  Opinion
                                  Jan 26, 2014 at 12:38 pm
                                  The problem is that no drastic reforms or changes have happened in our criminal judicial systems since independence. All governments have failed.When government fails,it may lead to rebellion and anarchy
                                  Reply
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                                    Anurag Gupta
                                    Jan 26, 2014 at 6:25 am
                                    Tavleen Singh has very rightly pointed that deficiencies in our criminal justice system are one of the major shortcomings of India. Prolonged delays, inefficient processes, and needless litigation has made people lose faith in police system and judicial process. Swift justice has become a near mirage. Courts take years to just decide whether the case should proceed against an accused! This explains the emergence of vigilante justice, extra-judicial measures, trial by mob/media, and general frenzy. I would add one suggestion to speed up judicial system - include time-limits for completing arguments. Advocates should be barred from seeking repeated adjournments. No-show by witnesses should not be condoned beyond a limit. Justice dela is justice denied!
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                                      Rakesh Katyal
                                      Jan 28, 2014 at 7:16 am
                                      Poor policing and poor justice delivery system are our two biggest weaknesses. Unless these improve considerably, India shall remain a banana republic for the mango man.
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                                        Really Singh
                                        Jan 27, 2014 at 3:11 pm
                                        200 judges per thousand potion!!! Is that right?
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                                          kalvin
                                          Feb 9, 2014 at 3:21 pm
                                          i remember, once i wrote somewhere ,19 million women were raped by the Allied force while recapturing back the lost teritory actual,satistic says it was 1.9 million. "to errr is human, to forgive devine"
                                          Reply
                                          1. K
                                            kalvin
                                            Feb 9, 2014 at 3:21 pm
                                            i remember, once i wrote somewhere ,19 million women were raped by the Allied force while recapturing back the lost teritory actual,satistic says it was 1.9 million. "to errr is human, to forgive devine"
                                            Reply
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