Thursday, July 23, 2009


Hope of receiving ‘just’ justice on time is more of an oxymoron!

It is only on two broad occasions that news on judiciary make headlines in newspapers. Firstly, when they rarely take any landmark decision and secondly, when in majority cases they stretch for decades. When it comes to justice or justice delivery mechanism, seldom things are on the right track.

Take for instance the civil cases, that include almost all societal problems dealing with land, property, matrimonial matters, credit - most of which are monetary in nature. In any developed or dynamic society, the probability or incidences of civil cases generally have a tendency to grow. But on the contrary, many states are observing fall in the number of civil cases. Take for instance Bihar, where there were only 5 new civil litigations per 10,000 population in 2008 compared to all India average of 35. This phenomenon finds company in almost all eastern states (averages below 15 per 10,000 population). It averages around 100 per 10,000 population in other countries. This weird and low incidence is not because of low civil disputes but actually because of delayed justice. Most of these cases are either negotiated out of court or most of the time the essences of the cases get diluted by the time justice is eventually delivered. In most of the eastern states, it's illiteracy and judicial ignorance that eventually turn the table in favour of powerful defendants and lobbyists.

If delays in the execution of civil cases have become a major thorn for the Indian society, Public Interest Litigation or the ubiquitous PIL has also brought much infamy. The PIL was fundamentally designed to make sure that citizens can individually approach courts in case their rights are threatened. There have been numerous incidents when PIL has been rightly used to protect social rights and other interests of society. But that is becoming a thing of the past sooner than later. Since last few years, PIL has been used as a PR tool to gain publicity and to further personal interests. From lawyers to next door businessmen – all are using PIL as a medium to reach the national news channels and media. There have been cases where people filed cases on Mallika Sherawat, Shilpa Shetty, Mandira Bedi (to name a few), in veil of obscenity and superstitions to gain cheap and fast publicity. The PIL movement actually started in Bihar to protect under-trials and bonded labourers. But today the nature of PILs has itself changed and has become a tool to solve personal conflicts. Likewise, in most of the cases, which involve ‘powers that be’ or affluent pockets of society, it’s a common phenomenon to see witnesses turning hostile. Be it cases of H. S. Sabharwal, Jessica Lall, or Sanjeev Nanda – in all these, key witnesses have turned hostile at the last moment. Till date there is neither a law nor any provision to protect witnesses. Contrast this with developed countries where witnesses have an option of either deposing anonymously or of being rehabilitated elsewhere. The New Zealand Police provides protection for witnesses under their Witness Protection Programme that helps create new identities. Same can be iterated about China, Switzerland, US, Canada and all. In the case of India, it's futile talking about the protection of witnesses. As soon as a witness testifies, the police actually leave him (or her) to fend for himself/herself. Thus from civil cases to PIL to witness protection, none of these laws can see a new dawn till the justice delivery mechanism is made more serious and fast. It's beyond any apprehension that correction of all the above mentioned lacunae would eventually depend on the efficiency of the existing judicial mechanism.


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