The case information system of commercial courts will carry colour-coded pointers to alert judges about delays and this will have a bearing on their progression up the ranks of the judiciary. This could hasten the glacial pace of litigation in India but till the government cracks down on officers filing frivolous cases, no major improvement can be expected.
India has improved its ranking in the World’s Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index from 142end position to 63rd since 2014. But one parameter on which it still lags is the ease of enforcing contracts. Its rank: Still a lowly 163rd. Reason: The glacial pace at which proceedings progress through the laborious Indian judicial system, making.
A new reform measure unveiled by the Narendra Modi government could move the dial on this. To encourage judges to speed up the pace of justice delivery, they will be marked green, yellow and red depending on the number of adjournments they allow in individual proceedings. To incentive compliance, their score on this count will be an important determinant of their progress up the judicial hierarchy.
Under the new system introduced recently by the Ministry of Law and Justice for commercial courts, the case management software will include automatic colour-coded alerts – green till three adjournments have been granted, yellow for adjournment numbers 4, 5 and 6 and red for any delays beyond that.
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“To facilitate expeditious enforcement of the contract regime, the case information system of commercial courts now includes a new feature whereby judges are being alerted about three adjournments through colour indicators,” a senior government official told the media.
India already has procedures in place of allowing only up to three adjournments per proceeding but the records show that this is observed in its breach in more than half the cases. This results in increasing the caseload on the judicial system and is a major contributory factor to judicial delays.
This procedure, which was recommended by a task force set up by the government to suggest changes in judicial procedures for faster disposal of commercial disputes and to improve the country’s ranking in the World Bank index of ease of doing business, has been in place since 2017, but it has done little to reduce the pendency of 39.4 million cases across all three layers of the Indian judicial system.
“Provisions for overall time standards in a civil case — the number of adjournments that can be granted in a case in normal circumstances — is already available in the Code of Civil Procedure. However, these time standards and the rule on adjournments are not followed in more than 50 per cent of the cases,” the task force observed at in 2017.
The latest government move is expected to improve judicial accountability, reduce the interminable delays on account of adjournments and help improve India’s score – and rankings – on the parameter of enforcing contracts and, as a consequence, on the overall index.
The government’s official think tank, Niti Aayog, had estimated in 2018 that the 29 million pending cases (the figure then) would take 324 years to resolve at the then pace of case resolution. In the three years since, an additional 11.4 million cases have been added to the list – an indicator of just how difficult it is to bring this issue under control.
Some experts pointed out that this new measure, though, necessary addresses only the judicial side of the problem. It does nothing to prevent the government from filing suit after pointless suit only because civil servants want to avoid taking contentious decisions.
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In India, the central and state governments and government-owned undertakings are the biggest litigants – at last count, they accounted for almost 50 per cent of cases clogging the Indian judicial system. But the fear of taking decisions that may be dubbed corrupt and the absolute absence of any punishment for filing frivolous cases, among other reasons, provide a perverse incentive for the bureaucracy to keep filing litigations without always applying their minds.
The government has now incentivised judges to speed up case disposal. If it can also put in place a system to punish officers who routinely approach the courts on matters that can be resolved administratively, then the great Indian judicial backlog can be realistically tackled.
Failing that, the situation will only improve marginally.