On a recent television programme, the question posed was: "Is the judiciary the last hope of our country?" The verdict was a resounding: "Yes".
We have all heard about a series of sentences pronounced by the judiciary on the high and mighty in the last few days. Some may well recall the conviction of a minister and a bureaucrat in Maharashtra for non-compliance of court orders which led to resignations and imprisonments a few months back. This sent a clear message to the officials, perhaps for the first time, that the judicial directions cannot be circumvented.
Over the past few days, we have had sentences pronounced on Sanjay Dutt, Shibu Soren and Navjot Sidhu. The Apex Court added one more punch by categorically ruling that no prior sanction is required for prosecuting the elected representatives in cases of corruption. "Taking bribes is not a part of official duty," said the honourable court.
This has caused a huge vulnerability for all those high-profile public officials whose cases were hibernating due to non-receipt of sanctions. With the present trend, the day of reckoning seems to be at the doorstep of almost all of them.
All this is not fun to write. In fact, it is painful. And even more when it concerns those who were under an oath to uphold the law but did something totally to the contrary.
How have things come to such a pass? The fact is that we inculcated social acceptance and recognition of law-breakers-turned-power-usurpers and ill-gotten-wealth accumulators. Alongside, they occupied expanding space with constituencies, to develop purchasing power to dictate orders. We, as a society, developed tolerance, fear, apathy, hypocrisy, and even self-aggrandisement with an indulgence to go along with many of them.
In fact, we paid a price and even took a price! Some paid the price, while the receivers accumulated it and further built mansions. There were millions who were onlookers. They too paid the price by losing faith in the system as a whole, as the spot survey revealed on the television programme.
For long, everything has needed a contact, a reference or an incentive — or else you are in waiting forever. Subordinates in many cases need approvals for right initiatives. Being courageous at times is threatening for the corrupt or the insecure. Today, senior and upper middle level generations of officials in any field are, by and large, products of a sub-culture which perpetuated indecision, inequality, fear and patronage in delivery services.
Can anyone dare to give a traffic ticket to a VIP or even a friend of a VIP and get away without a reprimand or a transfer? Or suffer isolation? Can a VIP even today be questioned, leave alone arrested, by an officer empowered by law, for visible disproportionate assets without the highest clearance? So where is the Rule of Law?
No wonder the prisons are overflowing with over three lakh people who are predominantly below the poverty line. In fact, more than controlling crimes, prisons in India are feeding these many men and women.
But, thanks to the growing desperation and public awakening, critical issues are getting addressed today with the speed and in a language many in power are not used to. There is a sigh of relief in some sections, and an outcry in others. The key issue now before us is whether this speed will be restricted to only those who are high-profile? Or will it also extend to the low-profile cases? My earnest prayer is that if we truly want to practise equality and restore faith and trust, we must do the following:
a) Filling up all existing vacancies of judges in subordinate courts and the High Courts, which are around 22 per cent as of now. Records show that subordinate courts are able to dispose off as many as 88 per cent cases filed before them in a year despite the existence of 21.92 per cent vacancies in their sanctioned strength. Thus, even if the vacancies are brought down by 12 per cent, it will logically lead to the disposal of 100 per cent cases filed during the year. If the vacancy position is brought down to zero, it will start liquidating the old pending cases correspondingly and this will benefit society as a whole.
b) Improvement of legal procedures to reduce pendency. The Active Case Flow Management Technique, for instance, creates dual tracks, one for keeping abreast of filing of new cases and the other to deal with old pending matters. This is a model being followed in the highest judiciary, which needs replication in all other courts.
c) Checking of arbitrary adjournments.
d) Computerisation at every level at the judiciary. Let the pendency of all courts be visible on the Net — along with the year’s performance.
e) Greater practice of the recently introduced Plea Bargaining.
f) Increase in the number of public prosecutors.
g) Evolve an alternative system of grievance redressal like the Gram Nayayalaya Act of Madhya Pradesh.
h) Delegation of powers for compounding of petty offences.
i) Fast track courts for case trials by magistrates.
j) Video Conferencing facilities for remand prisoners.
k) Alternative Dispute Resolution.
l) Amendment in Perjury Law.
Finally, let the judiciary annually publish in the newspapers its pendency and vacancy status, for all to see, including a result of research studies on people’s perspectives. This will set a trend for true transparency.
Once these suggestions are holistically addressed, the judiciary will have ensured speedy justice to all by getting criminals punished before they assume responsible positions.
(The writer is Director-General, Home Guards.)