By Vartika Aggarwal, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies.
Disputes and litigation have increased to such an extent in India that they have overburdened the Indian Judiciary. Courts have to struggle hard to cover the backlog of cases but the backlog keeps on increasing on a daily basis. Many of such disputes can be either avoided or they can be resolved through negotiation.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays a significant role in this regard as ICT can not only prevent unnecessary cases from entering into the judicial system but it can also eliminate the vices like bench hunting. Access to justice for marginalized in India can also be enhanced using ICT. ICT will play a major role in the governance of India. For a long time it was felt that electronic delivery (e-delivery) of services in India is required. However, e-delivery of services in India remains missing till now. With the announcement of Digital India and Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives by the Narendra Modi Government, things are going to change now.
The e-Courts Integrated Mission Mode Project is one of the national e-Governance projects, which is being implemented in High Courts and District/Subordinate Courts of the Country. The project has been conceptualized on the basis of the “National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology in the Indian Judiciary-2005” by the e-Committee of the Supreme Court of India, which is headed by the Chief Justice of India.
An Empowered Committee has been constituted under the Chairmanship of Secretary, Department of Justice, to give strategic direction & guidance to the project. The project is being implemented by the National Informatics Centre (NIC). A project monitoring committee comprising of the Department of Justice, representatives of e-Committee and the NIC, meets on a monthly basis to monitor the progress of the project. Steering Committee at each High Court oversees the implementation of the project in their respective High Court.
The objectives of the project are:
a) To help judicial administration of the courts in streamlining their day-to-day activities
b) To assist judicial administration in reducing the pendency of cases
c) To provide transparency of information to the litigants
d) To provide access to legal and judicial databases to the judges.
The e-courts project will be implemented in 3 phases spread over a period of 5 years and at a cost of Rs. 854 crores. It further aims at providing necessary hardware and software applications to enable courts to deliver e-services to its citizens, and to enable the judiciary to monitor and manage the functioning of courts.
In the Phase I of the project, more than 13,000 District and Subordinate Courts have been computerised and case information is linked to the respective District court websites. These courts now also provide online e-Services such as cause lists, case status and judgments, to litigants and public through the e-Courts portal. The case status, information in respect of over 5 crore pending and decided cases and more than one crore orders/judgments are available online. Litigants and lawyers are also provided services through Judicial Service Centres which are setup at the court complexes. Till now, more than 24 crore transactions have already been recorded regarding online access of court information.
The Phase II of the e-Courts project would be helpful in the automation of work flow management in the courts, thereby contributing to better court and case management. Touch screen based Kiosks and Video Conferencing facility will be installed at all Court Complexes and corresponding jails. Hand held process service devices will be provided to process servers to ensure transparent and time bound delivery of court notices and summons. Also, the use of solar energy has been proposed at 5 percent of the court complexes on a pilot basis so as to ensure that there is power backup.
This phase of the project further aims at providing the resources for ICT Infrastructure for setting up of a Computer Lab for every State Judicial Academy. Computer infrastructure is proposed to be provided for Delhi Legal Service Authorities and Taluka Legal Service Committees. The service delivery in courts are proposed through the use of cloud computing. The Policy Document proposes to promote the use of ICT for day-to-day activities by discontinuation of manual registers and maintenance of Court Registers in e-form. It also envisages preparation of mobile phone applications on various mobile platforms for latest case related information, and an SMS Gateway based infrastructure to facilitate push and pull based SMS for litigants and lawyers.
The last phase which is Phase III, would be the creation of information gateways between courts and public agencies and departments. The project is expected to lead to complete demystification of the adjudicatory process thereby ensuring transparency, accountability and cost-effectiveness.
The ICT infrastructure of the Supreme Court, High Court and other District Courts has been upgraded. The progress which took place during Phase I of the project is as follows:
- Laptops have been provided to 14,309 judicial officers.
- A unified national core application software known as Case Information Software (CIS) has been developed.
- Judicial Service Centre (JSC) has been established at all computerised courts and this serves as a single window for filing applications and petitions by the litigants/lawyers.
- There has been change in the management and training has been provided to the judicial officers and staff.
- A Video Conferencing (VC) pilot has been launched in 5 districts under the supervision of e-Committee.
- Process Re-engineering (PR) Committees have been set up in all High Courts to study and suggest simplification in existing rules, processes, procedures and forms.
The primary advantage of computerization of courts will be the ‘automation of workflow management’. This would further enable the courts to exercise greater control over the management of cases in the docket. The services which are envisaged under the project will thus cater to all the stakeholders including the judiciary, litigants and lawyers. ICT enablement will make the functioning of courts efficient and transparent and this will have an overall positive impact on the justice delivery system. It is envisaged that as the project progresses and technology develops, necessary additions will be made to the Charter of Services.