The Batmen Crisis in India

Tuesday, August 11, 2015 Politics

The Indian Judiciary through the lens

The highest paid professionals on the planet are lawyers. The amount they take home a month is more than five times the annual income of an average IT employee. However, in India the value and respect for a lawyer is less when compared with the rest of the world. The slickest tongue is considered the best here and such people make the most out of it. As actor Patrick Murray famously quoted, “A lawyer will do anything to win a case, sometimes he will even tell the truth.” The crisis in India is not entirely about winning or losing the match but the seemingly immense time it takes for the final whistle. The blindfolded Lady Justice eats up a lot of time before the balance in her arm comes to a rest.

Yakub Memon’s Mumbai blast, Salman’s hit-and-run and the Jessica Lal murder cases were some among the many where the court chose to be lethargic. Prashanth Bhushan once commented that our judicial system existed only on paper and that it was difficult for a citizen to claim justice. The time courts take to announce a verdict is so long that the common man always ends up choosing out-of-court settlements. There had been an incident where the verdict of a property case between a father and a son was announced in favour of the father after 10 years and that too on the day of his funeral. In 1973, a bus conductor in Delhi charged five paisa less from a female passenger. 41 years later on, the bus company is still embroiled in a fierce legal battle against him. It took 23 years for UP Minister D.P. Yadav to be sentenced for a murder he committed in 1992. There are countless instances where the cases ran for decades and the defendants passed away without being awarded a proper judgement.

As of now, there are 63,843 cases pending in the Supreme Court. It is estimated that it will take another 466 years for the Delhi High Court to pronounce judgements on all of its pending cases. There are about 270,000 prisoners languishing in our jails awaiting their trial verdicts. This amounts to 67% of the total prisoner count in India. These statistics also mean that two out of every three prisoners rot in jail not because they are convicted but because they are awaiting a verdict at the end of their trial. It was shameful for the Court to have Mr. Arun Ferreira under custody for five years before he was ruled innocent of all the charges that were placed against him. For some, it’s even worse. 1,486 under trial prisoners had been jailed for five years without having a single day in court.

The main reason for the delay in decision making is the unavailability of efficient judges. The Indian judiciary has a major number problem that no one is paying attention to; it does not have enough judges. As the kids in the villages fondly say, they do not have enough ‘batmen’ to be called by that name. Most of the positions are vacant. The Tripura and Meghalaya High Courts are the only ones that work at full capacity while the Jharkhand High Court has the highest vacancy. To append it, 30% of lawyers in India are just duplicates. The Bar Council of India (BCI) Chairman, Manan Kumar Mishra, in his shocking revelation conveyed that one out of every three lawyers in India is a fake, holding fraudulent degrees. About 20% of them practice in courts and he added that the Law Minister of Delhi himself had a fake law degree.

The Indian Judiciary cannot be completely faulted upon for the delay it exhibits. Supreme Court advocate Colin Gonsalves says: "India needs at least five times more judges than its current strength to clear the massive backlog of cases. The public blames the judiciary for delayed justice. But it is the government that is responsible for the current state of the judicial system. The Supreme Court should take suo motu notice of this and pressure the government to fix the situation". Less than 0.05% of the Indian budget has been allocated to fix the issue by the current government which is one-third of the approximate cost allocated for the construction of the Sardar Vallabhai Patel statue in Gujarat. The few judges that India does have will have to put their mind into more cases simultaneously. The unpleasant working conditions and political pressure keep the lawyers from becoming judges. Moreover, a lawyer can earn much more than a judge. The 120th report of the Law Commission flagged this manpower crisis and how successive governments had neglected it but still the effort taken by the Centre is laughable. The Court fees play another role in disposal of cases. The Madras High Court fee is so high that common people are unable to afford it resulting in lesser cases filed, thereby lesser pending cases. The numbers of pending cases are high when the court fee is less. It is rather amusing to learn that even the lowest working bodies can delay a case. Bribes are paid to the peons at the courtyard to hide the files of a case.

The Indian legal system needs a reformation to win back the trust of its fellow citizens. New judges have to be appointed and a revised budget for the Indian Judiciary has to be announced. The working conditions should be pleasant and the judges taken care of in such a way so as to avoid any external pressure. It should be by increasing the resources that the pending cases should be disposed of and not by merely increasing the court fees. The laws should be made simpler, so as to make the judges decide the verdict quickly. Like every other sector, corruption prevails in the Judiciary as well. The Government should do their part in wiping off bribes from the ‘last resort list’. The Judiciary should be given a good rapport from the police by minimizing the number of days taken for an investigation. Commitment and dedication from lawyers is what all Indians nowadays expect. To conclude, the best way to help the Judiciary is to stay within legal limits. An efficient judiciary is the backbone of a peaceful society.

written by
Ajay Peter