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Speedy reforms in judiciary can save political system

Whether it is the brutal murder of rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar or the gang rape case that has rocked the state, public outrage has been at its peak of late, often spilling out into the streets. It has dealt a body blow to the citizenry’s belief in the political system. A general air of disillusionment prevails.

Political parties and leaders have become a subject of ridicule and derision in the social media. People are also fuming over judicial ineptitude

Recently, state CM Prithviraj Chavan suggested off the record that the entire nation’s fixation with ‘fast’ decisions in courts was unfair. The general drift of his comment was this: ‘What can we do, after all it’s the judicial process.’ He was referring to the demand to fast-track the Shakti Mill rape case or Dr Dabholkar’s murder case.

The problem here is not just ineffective policing; the scant regard towards judicial processes and the absence of any fear for repercussions deserve serious attention. When serious incidents happen, people in the government speak about making stringent laws or adding provisions to existing laws. But this means nothing in the absence of speedy trials and judgments.

A few days back, Union Law minister Kapil Sibal told Rajya Sabha that currently three crore cases are pending at 16,000 odd courts of law across the country. This figure can go up to Rs 15 crore in the next three decades. Of all the pending cases, 26 per cent have been pending for more than five years and 40 per cent for more than a year. At present, there are only 15 courts for every 10 lakh people.

The figures are shocking. The immediate remedy, according to him, could be financial provision for basic facilities and comprehensive planning. In Maharashtra, 29.77 lakh cases were pending till December 31, 2012 of which 1.08 lakh cases were pending at Metropolitan magistrate courts in Mumbai. Eighteen judges have been handling court matters for every 10 lakh people.

The union and the state governments have been spending substantial amounts to improve basic facilities, convinced that this is the only way to improve the judicial process. They believe that this is the root of the problem, and now the state has asked the central government for a yearly allocation of Rs 375 crore in the next five fiscals. The Congress-led government is spending substantial funds on construction of court buildings, court halls, and accommodation for judicial officers, as well as for land for courts to vacate premises taken on rent for running the courts.

Such efforts can improve the current state of affairs at courts and help to some extent to win back the trust of the citizenry. But effective policing and appointment of efficient government pleaders is also necessary. Not just people, ministers also grumble over the efficiency of government pleaders. Many of them admit in private that political considerations determine the appointment of most government pleaders.

When CM Prithviraj Chavan speaks about fast-tracking the process, one fails to understand why he was so reluctant to replicate a Bihar state model of special courts to deal with corruption cases. His office had, a couple of years back, gathered all the necessary details of the Bihar model that facilitated establishment of such courts. The plans fell through.

The political leadership must keep in mind that rise in crime against certain sections of society is not the only reason for the rise in public anger, but corruption is also adding fuel to the fire. Recent arrests like that of a senior PWD engineer from Nashik, a clerk in the Raigad collector’s office, 36 policemen from Kurla police station, the CEO of the state wakf board were not only shocking, but prompted debate in administrative circles. None of their superiors were questioned.

  Judicial reforms, coupled with police reforms, can bring in desired results and help restore faith in the system. The CM himself revealed how police officials appeared unhappy over his announcement of a Rs 10 lakh reward for anyone who provides crucial clues in Dr Dabholkar’s murder case. The reward should have been announced later, after giving the police some time to crack the case, the officers told CM. The incident proves beyond doubt how little faith the CM exercises in the Pune police.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY 

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