‘Stalled Wheel of Justice’ delves deep into systemic judicial stillness

Stalled wheel if justice

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Judiciary in dire needs of structural reforms, argues book

By Deepak K Upreti

“The first requisite of civilization is that of justice,” said Sigmund Freud.

If what Freud, an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, said is correct, then Indian Judicial and police system are committing a ‘civilizational error’.

If we go past the usual sophistry, the justice system (s) in the country are in an anarchic state.

The rot in the justice delivery system is explicitly reflected when  all the  accused in gut-wrenching  rape and murder of a 19-year-old girl from Uttarakhand in the Chhawla case were acquitted in 2022 by the apex court.

The judgement found flaws in police investigation and prosecution, as well as trial at the lower tiers. But no accountability is fixed. None had raped and killed her!

She was beaten with the car tools, body parts were burnt with cigarette burns, and acid had been poured on her. And yet the case could not be settled in favour of the dead.

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‘Stalled Wheels of Justice’ is a compact book by Shishir Tripathi, a young journalist. The writer has rather silently put torch on the wide-cracks in the Indian Judicial-police apparatus which is taking decades to deliver what can hardly be described as ‘justice’ in the widest sense of the term.

If a Lok Sabha Member of Parliament  unofficially needs Rs 50 to Rs 100 crore to contest an election and a well-networked advocate charges Rs 10 to Rs 20 lakh for a  brief court appearance, it could be imagined as how costly democracy and justice are going for the clichéd ‘common man’.. ?

Thirty years on and cases are still pending in the Indian courts. We seem to have changed definitions of justice and its real meaning.

Tripathi quotes the National Judicial Data Grid to say that the number of “cases pending for more than 30 years total 93,220” and “cases more than 20 years to 30 years old total 495, 257”.

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Together, 588,477 people have almost spent half of their lives in jails waiting for “wheels of justice” to move.

“A total of 44,703,932 (four crore, 47 lakh three thousand nine hundred thirty-two) cases are pending before the different courts in India. Of this 33,726,601 are criminal cases and 10,977,331 are civil cases. Of these cases 97 per cent are more than one year old”.

The commonplace saying “justice delayed is justice denied” has long been buried deep in the dustbins of court rooms as ‘delay’ has become the hallmark of the judicial and police procedures and processes.

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In the prologue of 160-page book, the author cites the case of Machal Lalung from the Northeast who in July 2005, “walked free after fifty-four years as an undertrial. He languished in the Lokpriya Gopinath Bardoloi Mental hospital in Tejpur, Assam, for 38 years, even after declared fit by the hospital by in 1967″.

The enormity of the case is that he was arrested when he was 23 years old in 1951, under section 326 of Indian Penal Code for voluntarily causing grievous injuries but “his case never came up for hearing even once. As he was found mentally unstable, he was sent for treatment a then forgotten. when Lalung was released, he was 77 years old.”

Stories are galore where settling an issue – as small as a city bus ride ‘without ticket’ – taking 20 to 25 years, by the time the accused had already left for his heavenly abode.

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While a plethora of committees and commissions have, over decades, have given calls for Judicial and police reforms, nothing much has really moved on the ground.

Please, don’t have another voluminous report. Doing is always better than saying !.

Giving another example of chilling delay in delivery of justice, the author cites a case of Umakant Mishra, who  for 29 years “lived with tag of a thief, and in 2013 when the metropolitan magistrate in Kanpur gave judgement of not guilty, Mishra was already 65 years old, retired from the postal department that took him to court, and had little to celebrate”.

Similarly, he details a case of Banaras Shah, a resident of Sitamarhi, Bihar, whose case of a land dispute took 54 years to conclude!

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Tripathi brings in suggestions of senior lawyer Dr Arun Mohan from his book ‘Justice, courts and delays’. Dr Mohan says incentive for wrong-doer created by “current procedures and practices” takes “90 per cent” of court’s time and resources.

But the majority of cases in the courts are that of government, which happens to be the biggest litigant. Who would ask the government to govern better to reduce litigation?

The nexus of ‘big lawyers’ and their ‘influence’ causes repeat adjournments of cases leading to inordinate delay in cases. This is despite more than three adjournments not being permitted by law.

Poor police investigation, which is mostly deliberate on account of corruption in the force, also delays cases and allows guilty to go unpunished. The author has listed many cases in this respect.

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Tripathi rightly talks about the heavy cost of litigation, saying there has been a call for regulating lawyers fee and Supreme Court in 2017 holding a discussion on the issue and “depreciated the practice of lawyers demanding a share in their client’s pecuniary benefits awarded by courts and said it was professional misconduct for which action should be taken against erring Advocates.”

The author says the suggestion  did not go down well with the Supreme Court advocate Dhushyant Dave who reportedly said that “the suggestion by the court is completely unconstitutional and illegal…we are not a communist nation where everything can be regulated. Lawyers have a fundamental right to practice. It is not a right order.”

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Well, besides deriving unregulated fees, lawyers may also have ‘fundamental duties’ to ensure justice in time by giving free legal aid to those who can’t afford it.

Tripathi has well cited the poor state of ‘right to legal aid’ where poor legal aid (inefficient lawyers pleading their cases) is made available to those who can’t afford a lawyer.

‘Stalled Wheels of Justice’ is a well-written, non-verbose and unpretentious book, saying  it all with simple facts and straightforward narrative.

One wishes, he writes a second-part, which is more attacking one. Indian justice and police system requires a full-scale caesarean operation.

(Opinion expressed in the article solely belongs to the author)

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