Sunday, June 27, 2010

The inexplicable inability to appoint.....

A building complex of stone structures with wide corridors and pillars. A middle class ambiance with impressive old British Raj architecture. Unlandscaped open spaces, with old sensible trees, that have been growing there, possibly before any construction commenced. Wide graceful staircases, with steps, that show no chipping over, maybe , the last 100 years .

Arbitrarily angled bicycle stands, willfully made unplanned extensions of single room cottage structures under the shades of trees, with windows cut out and kept open at impractical heights for clients of lawyers, outsiders to communicate, and a single official photocopying set up, available to thousands of folks who throng there everyday, to set right some wrongs, take permissions, ratify life events, and listen to someone pronounce a punishment.

Circumstances and the need to follow certain rules regarding papers pertaining to one's late parents, often necessitate trips to what is called the City Civil Court in my hometown.

On my very first visit, I was totally disillusioned by the size of the courtroom, and the semi ruined furniture, although the cagey enclosure in which I stood and answered the judges polite questions was exactly like in the movies, and no, he didn't bang the gavel. On second thoughts, maybe His Honor did, after I left. I spent the whole day, reading and checking stuff, photocopying stuff, turning pages for court clerks, getting verifications done, and signing here and there, and agreeing to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

On my second visit, the city had a terrorist alert, the main gate was cordoned off, and everyone was being herded in through a side gate. This was manned by a posse of policemen and policewomen who were doing security checks. They were supremely intrigued by a whistle I carry in my purse (more about that here), and were examining it with considerable interest, till I blew on it, to possibly prove that it didn't self destruct along with the blowers etc, causing a bunch of folks to suddenly look in my direction. I have stopped explaining to the police why I carry a whistle. And they have stopped asking.

This was my last visit, after a year. I was to receive the final papers.

This time I was faced with a row of courtrooms with locked doors, unlike previous occasions when they were thronged with lawyers and clients, and court staff. I was to simply accompany the lawyer, sign somewhere and collect papers. The lady lawyer traipsed up and down the place trying to place where the clerk was, and when the latter finally appeared and unlocked the premises, I was shocked by what I saw.

The entire courtroom looked like nothing had occurred there for months. The floor was unclean and full of torn paper, there were heaps of case papers tied in the regulation red cloth waiting to be taken somewhere, the furniture where I had sat earlier awaiting my turn, looked like some one had been throwing it around, chairs had broken arms, and the entire wooden partition between the courtroom and its public office, was simply no more. Gone. This lady sat at old table, looking for my papers.

Turns out the old judge had been transferred on promotion to another city. All the old running cases of that judge, were now distributed and transferred in three different courtrooms with three different judges, in that many different buildings.

Just then , a lady, who appeared to be from a rural area came by, claiming she had to appear in court that day, but there wasn't any Court ! And she, who could probably just sign her name, and was greatly intimidated by anything officialese, was told, after some number checking, to go to another court , to another judge, to the Small Cause Court building. She would forget the name by the time she reached here, but there were no signs and directions for her.

I asked the lady clerk, why someone was not appointed to the existing Court, instead of lugging case papers to new judges in new courts, and troubling the clients so much, as they wandered around looking for places.

It seems the existing judge had been a senior judge. To appoint someone to his place, it would mean someone would need a promotion first. And for some ununderstandable reason, the judiciary couldn't do that. And so a huge amount of cases got delayed, possibly papers were searched again, and studied again for the nth time, by a new judge, case papers yellowed at the edges, and the old courtroom remained abandoned , desolate, unclean, and dismantled.

This is really the story of the backlog of judicial cases in courts in India.

The monied clients manage to fight, sue, appeal, and get judges to attend to their cases , all in one week. Murders of high society, well heeled, glamorous types, get immediate redressals. Two warring business brothers, get court dates at will, to adjudicate in a fight that shouldn't have happened in the first place. Even IPL cricket related cases are given priority consequent to someone earning a few more millions than someone else, and to hell with the game, anyway.

Today, ( as of Aug 16, 2009), there are 52,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court, 40,00,000 cases in the High Courts, and 20.7 million cases pending in trial courts across the land. The PM has, urged the Chief Justices to expedite cases, create a large number of special rural courts, and identified unfilled judge vacancies as the main cause. Almost 3000 posts of judges lie unfilled, because of recruitment delays.

The Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court has revealed in a report that it will take 466 years to clear the huge backlog of cases, despite racing through each case in an average time of 4 minutes and 55 seconds, and there are 600 cases that are at least 20 years old. India has 11 judges for every million people compared to the US having 110 judges for a million people. The Delhi High court has a sanctioned judge strength of 48, but only 32 are actually appointed. The Union Justice Ministry has asked for and increase of 50 more judges per million people by 2013, but the government is wondering how to pay for a massive overhaul like this. Amazingly the same government finds more than adequate money for statues, junkets, and the like, not to mention hikes in salaries of our esteemed legislators, who almost always have innovative "other" incomes.

Common folks have lost faith in getting any justice in reasonable time. Litigation is actively pursued as a valid time wasting and delaying technique, sometimes in cahoots with the powers that be.

While I agonize over the size of the dent on the country's planned/unplanned expenditure, if they give a promotion to, and appoint a judge , for the abandoned courtroom where I earlier appeared, no one seems to be , as they say in court, seized of the matter.

I guess things could really be worse.

Lal Bihari, a native of Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, was suddenly declared "dead" by his cousins in 1976, because they wanted to usurp his land. Some official consequently probably made a killing and retired happily, but Lal Bihari started proceedings to declare that he himself, was alive. His village called him a ghost, and drove him out, after beating him. He then resorted to all kinds of stuff to prove he was alive and kicking. He abused a judge, assaulted a District magistrate and threw paper balls from the gallery into the State assembly, and even contested an election against some prominent politician. It took him 18 years, for the Court to notice and declare him alive. He is so fed up, he doesn't bother about reclaiming his land now, and is a petty vendor of sarees.

But in the best traditions of a never-say-die (and never was this truer) attitude, he now affixes a suffix "Mritak (Dead)" to his name (Lal Bihari, Mritak, sounds so tough vis -a-vis say Lal Bihari, Esq), and has started a All India Mritak (Dead Men's) Association. They have 1000 members, and it is known that in eastern Uttar Pradesh, every district has one such case, typically old widows .

But some are plain unlucky.

Paltan Yadav from the same district , in 1988, was once assaulted by his cousins while working in his fields. They attacked him calling him an impostor, and he ran to the village record office to find himself declared dead, and his land transferred to his cousins. He ran from pillar to post and court to court, unsuccessfully. He gave up in 1994, and became a sadhu.

Someone said "Crime takes but a moment but justice an eternity".....

We prove it so well.


  1. Indian judiciary is a good example of bad theatre. And the biggest case is the judge itself !

  2. It sounds like a terrible nightmare. I thought our system was bad, but I do believe that yours is much worse.

    Justice is so elusive and "justice takes an eternity" sounds about right no matter what country you live in. That is incredible that the man lost his land to his thieving cousins because of simply having to prove he was alive. Incredible!

  3. Our judiciary needs a complete overhaul.

  4. In Brazil, dear, happens the same...and that´s very very bad to a better society