One of the major concerns for those seeking to improve our democracy is improving “access to justice”. Simply put, “access to justice” implies a number of things such as getting larger people to resolve disputes through courts, disposing of cases speedily, ensuring judges give quality time to every dispute, etc. One of the problems in ensuring better access is the large number of pending cases in the Country.
As of March 2010, there were 40,60,709 (more than 40 lakh) cases pending in High Courts, and 2,72,75,953 (2.7 crore) pending in District Courts in the country. One of the key aspects of reducing these extraordinarily large numbers is to identify those who file the largest number of cases in order to get them to reduce their tendency to litigate. Not surprisingly, the largest litigator in the country is the Government.
Recognising this rather disturbing fact, the government announced a National Litigation Policy. The policy states the following:
- The National Litigation Policy is based on the recognition that Government and its various agencies are the pre-dominant litigants in courts and Tribunals in the country. Its aim is to transform Government into an Efficient and Responsible litigant.
- Government must cease to be a compulsive litigant. The philosophy that matters should be left to the courts for ultimate decision has to be discarded.
- The purpose underlying this policy is also to reduce Government litigation in courts so that valuable court time would be spent in resolving other pending cases so as to achieve the Goal in the National Legal Mission to reduce average pendency time from 15 years to 3 years.
- Prioritisation in litigation has to be achieved with particular emphasis on welfare legislation, social reform, weaker sections and senior citizens and other categories requiring assistance must be given utmost priority.
It is both tragic and encouraging that the government recognises that over the years, it has itself become the largest impediment to ensuring access to justice for millions who are left out of the system.
While many would use this argument to say that the government has failed and must be trimmed down to allow greater private enterprise, I would argue that (a) government should be re-structured to enable people to get access to basic infrastructure, and (b) government should be rationally increased in areas that we need it most: more judges, more policemen, more food inspectors and engineers.
Our existing systems do not work because the government over-staffs departments that do not need people, while not doing enough to combat major manpower shortages elsewhere. We have one of the lowest police-to-population ratio in the world. We have one of the lowest judge-to-population ratio in the world. And yet, go into a government department and there are innumerable peons at an officer’s beck and call, one regulating entrants into the hallowed portals of power, one stationed there only to serve food and water, and so on.
The need of the hour is to re-adjust the priorities of the government: whether employees are required to regulate rights of access to senior babus, or to serve citizens better.