Indian justice system needs to be salvaged

Is India a just society? In his book ‘The Idea of Justice’, Amartya Sen says that putting in place the right institutions and entitlements is a step towards a more just society.
The key is whether our institutions are able to deliver justice in their spheres. And if the Indian courts are the place where the rot lies, they have to be salvaged. We already are quite tired of the worn-out alibi that Indian courts are overburdened with a huge backlog of cases. To top that, criminal trials take a criminally longer time than what it should take to settle them.

There have been suggestions to speed up the process of justice by fast-tracking it and to have more courts and more judges, but little really is done. The 154th Law Commission, in order to reduce the delay in disposing criminal cases, proposed the concept of plea bargaining and also recommended it as an alternative to deal with the heavy backlogs of criminal cases. But what do we actually see?

For the rape and murder of Priyadarshini Mattoo, it took 11 years for justice to be delivered. It took 10 years for an FIR to be registered and 19 years for Haryana director-general of police (DGP) S P S Rathore to get a conviction.

High time

It is time we examined what is wrong with our justice delivery system and see what is delivered in the name of justice. It has long been held that justice delayed is justice denied. The Liberhan Commission took more than 16 years — it was granted 48 extensions in all — to produce its report on the Babri Masjid demolition which, added with the impossibility of bringing the guilty to justice, can be called a travesty of justice.
Indian judiciary is both strong and independent. But it is so hopelessly convoluted that it is counter-productive. There are thousands of undertrials languishing in jails for terms much longer than warranted by maximum sentence for the alleged breach of law. Laws are broken with impunity though we have plenty of laws against dowry, child marriage, child labour, corruption and every conceivable evil.
Enacting more laws, clubbing or sub-grouping them does not really help when law enforcement is abysmal. Labyrinthine procedures get in the way of objectives and conviction is far apart from crime. We are inured to the ritual whineing about the low number of judges, about little incentives, about corruption, and about a backlog of cases that account for a slothful Indian judiciary.
Over two million cases are pending in 18 high courts and more than 2,00,000 cases are pending in the Supreme Court for admission, interim relief or final hearing.
There is no dearth of people who individually or collectively are subjected to offences, atrocities, humiliation, fraud, exploitative or inhuman conditions and abuse of various kinds, besides being socially and economically discriminated. All this despite Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which enumerates that the state shall not deny any person equality before the law and equal protection of laws.
Our justice system has been framed in such a manner that it does not address the concerns of the vulnerable and marginalised sections, including offences against women and children, preventing atrocities against the SC/STs, and labour, both blue and white collar.
The ambit of public interest litigations (PILs) must be widened as it not only protects those sections which are vulnerable to social and political repression but also helps develop collective responsibility to protect against, say, environmental degradation, terrorism and cyber crime.
The hierarchy that the exorbitant cost of ‘quality’ legal services causes is deeply divisive because it means that only affluent sections of society can avail of the best legal counsel and in many cases, think of peddling away money to tinker with the law.
Justice must be salvaged from the powerful who are bent on twisting it to their ends. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh very recently said that the basic objectives of economic policy in India had remained unchanged over the decades — growth with stability and social justice.
But is he ready to overhaul our judicial system and initiate the process of a thorough judicial reform? Should we supply fodder to the Maoist and Naxalite movements of the country which thrive on deep-seated and very real social injustices suffered by a dispossessed majority?

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