At the outset, courts 2 and 24 at the Delhi High Court look similar— the same dull tube-lit ceilings, sliding wooden racks housing thick books and faded Godrej almirahs. Dusty table fans hide behind judges’ benches, people sitting on discoloured rexin chairs and an old wall clocks slowly ticking away.
But once the sessions get underway, the contrast is palpable. Musty files and books with neon-coloured page markers line up the division bench in court 2. Judges ask for and refer to numerous files and books while hearing a case.
In court 24, presided over by Justice Ravindra Bhat, a sleek 22-inch LCD monitor has replaced bulky files. A digital pen sits in place of a fountain pen and to the judge’s right is a touch-screen meant to screen presentations.
Between 10:45 am and 11:15 am, four cases are heard. There’s no movement of files or books, the judge simply clicks the mouse to ponder upon the case on his monitor and makes quick notes on the tablet.
Of the 36 chambers in the Delhi High Court, numbers 3 and 24 started e-sessions in December 2009.
The idea for the pilot project, says Justice Bhat, came in 2002-03 when the Supreme Court introduced electronic filing of cases. “The objective is to eliminate paper.”
Going paperless seems like a good idea, given that an average case uses up nearly 3,000 pages. “A recent case’s files weighed three kilos. The Uphaar case used up an almirah. I had an army of peons ferrying them every time I needed them,” says Bhat.
Today, with Bhat’s workload running into 2,000 cases, 80 per cent of the files have been digitised. He waves a 1.5-inch 4-GB pen drive that contains his work for the week. “Everything I need is in this.”
The obvious benefits are a reduction in time, storage space and eventually, costs.
Judges can view documents online, sign digitally and trawl websites. Lawyers use laptops to refer to files or make presentations on the touch-screen.
High Court lawyer Shikha Sapra, 30, calls it a brilliant initiative. “Lawyers need to become eco-friendly. The amount of paper we use is shameful at times.”
Will e-courts change the perception of Indian judiciary being all about taareekh pe taareekh (date after date)?
Wait till another date for the answer.