Republic@70: We need ‘Azaadi’ from oppressive laws, procedures and lawyers

There is no study that shows how many Indian lives or Indian businesses have been ruined by protracted litigation, unfair trials and unjust or wrong judicial orders

Supreme Court (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Supreme Court (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
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There is no study that shows how many Indians or businesses have been ruined by protracted litigation, unfair trials and unjust or wrong judicial orders. Nor is there any study that tells us how many High Court verdicts have been set aside by the Supreme Court and after how many years or how many lower court judgments are thrown out every year by the High Courts.

But it is safe to assume that the experience of the litigant in India is not very pleasant. If the litigant happens to be a defendant against the state, he or she is not only deemed to be guilty even before evidence is assessed but the subordinate courts seldom take the risk of giving any relief to the defendant lest the state holds it against them. Go and get relief from the high court is what such litigants are often told.

Approaching the higher judiciary for the ordinary litigant is invariably expensive. And while theoretically 80% of the population are eligible for legal aid, the per capita expenditure on legal aid by the state is said to hover around 75 paise. No state apparently spends even one per cent of its budget on the judiciary.

Getting a sincere and affordable lawyer often depends on ‘connections’ and luck. And time-bound trials are a mirage. When the case is eventually listed in the High Court, there is little certainty when it would be heard. The daily cause list shows a large number of cases likely to be taken up by each Bench but only a fraction of the cases listed actually come up for hearing. The litigant wastes his money and time and often must return to go through a similar experience and many more frustrating days.

How much black money is being generated in the court is also something that nobody talks about. Barring the prohibitively expensive senior lawyers like Harish Salve, who do not mind paying Rs 70 Crore as Income Tax in 10 years ( as Salve himself admitted), who receive their fees through bank transfer, most lawyers insist on payment in cash and the litigant is lucky to get a receipt.

Archaic procedures, mechanical administration of justice and the blurred lines between the executive and the judiciary make lives of litigants miserable. The courts often allow the prosecution to submit charge sheets that run into thousands of pages and lists scores of witnesses—to make sure that the prosecutor and the judge retire before the end of the case. The litigant, if lucky, dies in the meanwhile.

Draconian laws, imposed by British rulers, continue to be used with impunity against Indian citizens.

Detention without trial under the National security Act, the law against sedition and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act are being used to keep thousands of citizens behind bars. What is needed is a clean slate and radical reforms in subordinate courts. Once that happens, one can hope for the higher judiciary to become more responsive to people and public interest.

They apprehend that the already perilous state of its finances will be compounded with the sharply rising debt burden. Its lease hire charges keep mounting; provision of Rs 11,489 crore for FY 2019-20 aggregates 5.6% of total working expenses: wage bill budgeted at Rs 86,554 crore together with Rs 50,100 crore as appropriation to pension fund accounts for over 66.9% of total working expenses of Rs 205,500 crore. Contractual payments at Rs 8,546 crore represent another 4.16% of the total working expenses.

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