Structure, organization and functioning of the Judiciary
Improving the performance of Indian courts
The Indian judicial system has a pendency problem. The national pendency count is pegged at around 2.3 million cases. Recently there was a news that the lower courts in Kerala, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Chandigarh have disposed of almost all cases that had been pending for a decade or more.
Justice delayed this much is justice compromised:
Earlier this month, a special court sentenced gangster Abu Salem and others for the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. It took nearly 25 years for the Indian state to convict and sentence at least some of those who had perpetrated one of the bloodiest acts of terrorism on Indian soil.
Citizens are poorly served by the state twice over:
Once when their access to the law exists more in name than in fact, and the second time when they are deprived of the benefits of economic growth that has been hamstrung by clogged courts. The lower courts in states like Kerala and Punjab have shown that this need not be the case.
Lessons to be learnt:
Improving transparency and accountability:
The figures are only for the lower courts but there are still valuable lessons to be learnt—especially since the lower courts are where most cases get stuck. Example: The high court of Punjab and Haryana has jurisdiction over the lower courts of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh.
Almost a decade ago, it set up a case management system—i.e. a mechanism to monitor every case from filing to disposal.
It also began to categorize writ petitions based on their urgency.
In addition, it set annual targets and action plans for judicial officers to dispose of old cases, and began a quarterly performance review to ensure that cases were not disposed of with undue haste.
All these measures ushered in a degree of transparency and accountability in the system, the results of which are now apparent.
Good performance despite missing judges:
It is generally assumed that courts struggle to keep up because there aren’t enough judges. But this might not be entirely true given that some courts are clearly managing to perform better in the same conditions. A study found no strong direct correlation between judicial vacancies and the performance of a court. The study looked at the lower courts in Tamil Nadu and found that while all courts had missing judges, there was still significant variation in their performances. For example, while a civil case anywhere in the state takes on an average about 2.95 years to be resolved, in the district of Ariyalur, it takes an average of 4.65 years. Similarly, while Chennai’s lower courts dispose criminal cases the quickest, Coimbatore’s lower courts are the slowest.
The large number of judicial vacancies isn’t a problem. But there are other effective ways to address the problem as well.
Judicial case management:
The court can set a timetable for the case and the judge can actively monitor progress. This marks a fundamental shift in the management of cases—the responsibility for which moves from the litigants and their lawyers to the court. Some believe that judges should stick to judicial matters and leave administrative issues to other court officials and staff, while others believe that the two functions cannot be viewed separately.
Law Commission’s recommendations: The Law Commission of India in its 230th report has also offered a long list of measures to deal with the pendency of cases. These include
Providing strict guidelines for the grant of adjournments.
Curtailing vacation time in the higher judiciary.
Reducing the time for oral arguments unless the case involves a complicated question of law.
Framing clear and decisive judgements to avoid further litigation.
Incorporating technology into the system:
Digitizing courts records has been a good start in this context but a lot more can be done. For example, just like automation powered by Artificial Intelligence is already helping doctors, it can also be leveraged to assist judges and lawyers.
The missing judges problem is the reason behind poor performance of Indian courts. True the solution lies in filling up the vacancies especially at the level of lower courts. However, there is much more htta can be done to improve the performance as reflected by the performance of lower courts in states like Kerala, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh etc. These changes must be brought on urgent basis as justice delayed is justice compromised.
Connecting the dots:
The Indian judicial system has a pendency problem. The solution is to fulfil the vacancies. However there are many other reforms which if brought in can help improve the efficiency of courts. Discuss.
General Studies 2:
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections
General studies 3:
Banking & related Issues; Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
Inclusive growth and issues arising from it
Balancing Aadhaar and Right to Privacy
The Supreme Court has declared the Right to Privacy a fundamental right, albeit subject to reasonable restrictions in legitimate state interest. In this context, the role of Aadhaar in transforming India is being debated. India has embarked on a major revolution towards a transparent economy through digital payments. The share of digital payments is said to be about five per cent of total personal consumption or even lower at two per cent of total transactions, which are among the lowest in the world. Now with 1.17 billion Aadhaar cards and an equal number of mobile phones, we have the opportunity to take digital payment to the masses.
Aadhaar and UPI:
Aadhaar will help India leapfrog traditional payment systems such as cheques, drafts, debit cards, POS (point-of-sale) devices and transition to modes of digital payments not seen even in the most advanced countries. UPI will have a far-reaching impact because it is India’s own internet of digital payments. UPI is real time and fully interoperable across all banks. There are 350 million smartphone users in India, who can use UPI to make digital payments up to Rs 1 lakh without any card or POS device. Merchants can also use the Bharat QR Code to receive payments.
Enabling digital payment in rural India:
BHIM-Aadhaar allows more than 300 million Indians living in rural and urban areas, who do not have credit cards, debit cards, smartphones or feature phones or who are not financially literate to handle PINs, passwords etc. to pay digitally. In this mode, a retail corner shop would not need an expensive POS device such as a debit or credit card swipe machine. He can use his own smartphone with a fingerprint scanner, which costs around Rs 2,000, install the BHIM-Aadhaar app and link it to his bank account. Customers can pay small amounts upto Rs 2,000 without needing a debit or credit card. Upon Aadhaar authentication of the fingerprint, the money will be debited from the Aadhaar-linked bank account of the customer and credited to the merchant’s account. Each one of the more than 700 million people who have linked their Aadhaar with their bank accounts, can now use her or his fingerprint to make payments.
The beneficiaries of the cash economy as well as traditional payments systems oppose using Aadhaar in digital payments by raising concerns about the Aadhaar database being insecure, fingerprints being vulnerable to hackers etc.,
Mitigating risks rather than abrogating technology:
The payment systems based on physical signatures, cheques, debit cards, ATM cards, PIN etc. Were also not absolutely safe and had no vulnerabilities. People have been writing cheques and putting their physical signatures on documents for ages, knowing fully well how easy it is to forge a signature. Similarly, we read about frauds in ATMs, debit cards and internet banking through cloning, scheming, spoofing, phishing etc., and yet we have not stopped using them. Every technology is vulnerable and subject to risks. What is needed is mitigation of risks, not abrogation of technology.
The Aadhaar-based payment system has been robust and secure:
It is evident from the track record of the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS).
The AEPS provides doorstep banking through more than 1,30,000 banking correspondents to people living in remote villages and enables them to withdraw or deposit money using their fingerprints on Aadhaar-based micro-ATMs.
In the last four years, more than 700 million transactions have been carried out without a single case of financial loss due to fraud or identity theft.
Besides, Aadhaar continuously reviews emerging threats and takes measures to counter them and minimise risk.
Making UPI and Aadhaar-based payment system more secure:
Three major reforms happened in the last six months, which would make UPI and Aadhaar-based payment systems even more secure.
In February 2017, Parliament amended the Income Tax Act to mandatorily link PAN with Aadhaar.
The Supreme Court in the Lokniti Foundation case has required that more than 100 crore existing mobile SIM cards be biometrically verified with Aadhaar by February 2018.
The government amended the Prevention of Money Laundering Rules in June this year to require every bank account to be verified and linked with Aadhaar and PAN by December 31, 2017.
In BHIM-Aadhaar and UPI, since the bank accounts and mobile numbers of the sender and receiver of the payment are linked to their Aadhaar and PAN cards, the transactions will undoubtedly be safer. In the worst case, if there is an unauthorised transfer from an account, the beneficiary can be identified through Aadhaar.
Ensuring mass adoption of digital payments:
India has set an ambitious target of achieving 2,500 crore of digital payment transactions this year. Efforts are on to bring down transaction costs so that consumers are not at a disadvantage for choosing to pay digitally.
The US in 2010 undertook reforms to protect consumers of digital transactions.
The EU also passed regulations in 2015 to rationalise and reduce transaction fees.
Similar steps are necessary in India too.
Democratisation of digital payments through UPI and BHIM-Aadhaar will lead to a less cash economy, rid the country of black money and tax evasion and bring large numbers into the financial mainstream. And thus the way forward should be to mitigate the risks associated with it rather than abrogating the technology.
Connecting the dots:
In the wake of judgment of Supreme Court regarding Right to Privacy the usage of Aadhaar is debated. Discuss how and why the way forward should be- mitigating the risks associated with it rather than abrogating the technology.
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