EIGHT YEARS ago, a court room in east Delhi’s Karkardooma lower judiciary complex witnessed an unusual event. On the dais, instead of a judge, was a touchscreen. All the files in that court had been digitised. And a video conferencing facility was installed to record evidence from jails, forensic labs and hospitals.
Today, this experiment to fast-track the disposal of pending cases has reached 488 district court complexes and 342 jails. And, according to the Union Law Ministry, 14,249 courts are being made ready under its E-courts Mission Mode Project — all of them will get computer hardware, local area networks and standard application software.
The challenge is huge — over 2.68 crore cases are still pending in various courts. But the change is visible, say judges, officials and legal researchers.
These courts have been connected to the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG). And, apart from the obvious benefits of transparency and real-time tracking, the e-move has sharply reduced the time taken to process a case, especially transcription of evidence.
The NJDG now finds a mention in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2018 report. The grid has “made it possible to generate case management reports on local courts, thereby making it easier to enforce contracts”, states the report.
But more importantly, say researchers, it has thrown up real-time data that shows the patterns in which justice is delivered at the lowest level. For instance:
* The courts of the chief judicial magistrate in Allahabad district have the maximum number of cases (41,101) pending for more than ten years; a family court in Uttar Pradesh’s Chitrakoot has the least number of cases (2) pending for more than ten years.
* 15.8 per cent of pending cases in Andhra Pradesh are those filed by women, the highest for any state. The Guntur district court has 9,066 cases filed by women pending — the court with the highest pendency under this category in the state.
* 20.77 per cent of pending cases filed by senior citizens are from Maharashtra — the largest share in the country. The Pune district and sessions court has the maximum number of pending cases (3,069) under this category.
* Haryana has the least percentage (0.09%) of cases pending for more than 10 years; at the same time, 14.04 per cent of cases pending in Haryana district courts are those filed by women.
* In Kerala, 486 courts connected to the grid have disposed of 58,240 cases in the last one month; Madhya Pradesh, with more than thrice the number of courts connected to the platform (1,546) disposed of only 53,123 in the same period.
The transformation is also evident from the findings in 2016 of a study conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research in the high courts of Bombay, Chhattisgarh, Gauhati, Karnataka, and Punjab and Haryana:
* On an average, the manual preparation of summons took over 30 minutes; the manual delivery of summons took three days; and manual updates of daily orders and preparation of cause lists took over 40 minutes. “But the time taken for the same activities was reduced drastically when a computerisation system was used. The preparation of summons only took 10 minutes and an hour was sufficient for their delivery, while other processes too consumed only a fifth of their original time,” the study found.
* The manual transcription of evidence in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which took 37.54 minutes manually, had been slashed to just 12.62 minutes. And, at a national level, it took just 12.88 minutes as against 50.93 minutes manually.
The story of change is not just confined to computerisation, though. Judges in Delhi point out that it has made the system of disposal “transparent”.
“Does a litigant or a policymaker know how our courts are functioning? Did we know which court in a district or state is disposing of the maximum cases? Or which court has the maximum cases pending for over ten years? For decades, we didn’t have answers to these questions. But now this has changed. These numbers are important to implement policies or bring new changes for faster disposal of cases,” said an Additional Sessions Judge posted in a North Delhi district court.
With a few clicks on his computer, the judge pulled out data from March to show how the functioning of court rooms can be tracked on real-time basis: The north district disposed of 1,937 cases, south west disposed of 3,888 cases and north east disposed of 863 cases.
“The pendency of cases and the orders passed are uploaded real-time. This is of much help in criminal cases, where litigants don’t have to wait for signed copies from the court. Earlier, the judge had to sign on each page and pass the order to the litigant. Also, in certain courts, staff can hand over the orders using digital signatures. They don’t have to wait for the judge. But most importantly, the tool has led to improved case management and less number of visits by litigants to the courtroom,” said the judge.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Judge Rajesh Malik, president, Delhi Judicial Service Association, said: “Every court order is available on the national grid. More importantly, each court can be tracked as to how many cases are pending for a year or five years or more. This has led to transparency. But the actual impact will be seen when the filing of cases are done digitally. It is being followed in the Delhi High Court. The same has to be adopted at all trial courts.”