Justice P K Balasubramanyan
Chairman, e-Committee, Supreme Court of India
What are the developments since e-Committee submitted its report on e-Courts in 2005?
In May 2005, Justice G C Bharuka, the then chairman of e-Committee, Supreme Court of India submitted e-Committee report on Strategic Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology in Indian Judiciary. Since then we have moved considerably in this direction. We are trying to put judgments online. Making judgments and case abstracts available through a single window is also being worked upon. On the procurement part, 15,000 Judicial Officers [district judges, magistrates] have been provided with laptops and printers. Judicial computer centres are also being set up in almost 3900 court complexes. Though the initial deadline was to complete it by 2009, but with the delay in readying of sites, and some other reasons, it has been further extended.
National Informatics Centre (NIC) has developed software for Courts for whole of the country. However, the procedures slightly vary in different states and we have also proposed for further customisation of software. Among others, the state of Kerala has rolled out the software. We have asked states to give their feedback. We have a technical member to oversee the issues related with technology. Besides, we also have software committee.
What is your strategy for deploying ICT in 3900 courts? What are the challenges across its way?
Out of 3900 courts, we are initially trying to cover all the districts courts and then to subordinate courts and then to talukas. Delhi Court has done fairly well in implementing e-Courts. Power supply and storage facility are issues we are trying to tackle.
What are the landmarks achieved so far?
Laptops have been distributed to judicial officers and provided with broadband connectivity. Installation of computer centres in court complexes is another milestone we stand close to. As earlier mentioned, digitisation and archival of records is being done. Besides, IT infrastructure has been upgraded in all High Courts (HC). Currently, local area network (LAN) is being set up in 3900 court complexes- in which district courts are being targeted first, followed by subordinate courts. 80% of the District Courts (DC) have been covered.
What are the developments in e-Filing? What are the reasons you see for its current state?
The progress has been slow. The country is vast, having peculiar problems like lack of consistent electricity supply, limited tech savvy stakeholders. Firstly, we are trying to set up video conferencing (VC) centres in court premises and provide them with broadband connections. There should be computer centre wherein arguments can be done, curbing the need of the physical presence of advocates in the court premises. There is a need to bring Bar Associations in the programme of computerisation, as they are also one of the key stakeholders in a move towards paper less courts.
The connectivity between subordinate courts, district courts, High Courts and Supreme Court is very much needed. Issuing of summons by the SC to HC and HC to DC and muncifs and the vice versa takes a lot of time. This can be reduced through providing direct connectivity between all the courts in hierarchy. We are also contemplating issuing of summons through e-mails. Similarly, issuing notices to individuals and bodies, and to corporate bodies, and other institutions will be a cakewalk through online mechanism. Though in metros, availability and popularity of online services are feasible, in rural areas it has got several challenges. Readiness and affordability are hurdles in popularity of these services in rural and countryside regions.
Don’t you think even the rural residents can access the online services through 100,000 common service centres covering 600,000 villages? How can availability of online services help the poor?
Yes, off course it can be done. The litigations in public interest through these centres can be addressed speedily with online systems in place. For example, a Public Interest Litigations (PIL) filed on the unavailability of water in some area can be addressed issuing online directions to the authorities by the concerned judge.
What are the challenges? How these deployments can be accelerated?
Low number of judges and courts are the biggest challenge. CJI recently said that in spite of the need of 35,000 courts we just have 16,000 courts. We need more number of committed judges, with integrity and good character. Improving the court infrastructure by respective states and more administrative support, including power supply and backups and improving the quality of legal education are issues demanding serious contemplation. Also, in the long run, the Judiciary needs to have its own resource pool to oversee the IT infrastructure of the courts. Primarily, we are implementing VC. Then we will implement e-Filing system, which will be followed by setting up of complete e-Court.
Pratap Vikram Singh