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Reversing India’s descent into anarchy

EducationWorld August 2020 | Editorial

It’s easy and normative to dismiss as a case of just desserts, the suspicious gunning down by policemen of gangster Vikas Dubey on July 10 in Kanpur, where a week earlier he had reportedly killed eight policemen in a late night ambush. Such encounter killings — police personnel gunning down suspected criminals on grounds of self-defence and/or attempted escape — are welcomed by the public because of the notorious delay of contemporary India’s dysfunctional justice system. Surprisingly, even educated middle class citizens are willing to overlook the reality that extra-judicial torture and murder has become a dangerous habit of police.

The logical response to the law’s agonising delay — currently there’s a backlog of 30 million pending cases in the country’s inadequate and undermanned courts of law and delays of ten-15 years between filing of cases and their adjudication is normative — is to reform the justice delivery system. Yet despite over 120 reports of high-powered Law Commissions recommending ways and means to unlock the wheels of the archaic justice delivery system, the legal process is often more punitive than harshest verdicts. Unsurprisingly, on the global Rule of Law Index 2020 of the independent US-based World Justice Project, India is ranked #69 — below Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa.

Quite obviously massive investment in expansion and modernisation of the judicial system is imperative. For decades together, India’s ratio of judges to population has been among the lowest worldwide — 20 per million people currently. Against this, the ratio of judges per million in the US is 70, China (144), Russia (210) and Lichtenstein (1,837). Despite this, the allocation of the Union ministry of law and justice in the Central government’s budget 2020-21 is a paltry Rs.2,200 crore.

Yet it’s not enough to merely demand larger budgetary outlays for upgrading the justice system. Deeper examination is required to understand why for over half a century, successive governments at the Centre have failed to make larger provision to expand and improve the judicial system.

The root cause of this malady which has infected the body politic is painfully clear. Post-independence India’s socialist economic development model has stifled the inherent native spirit of private enterprise. It simply doesn’t allow sufficient wealth creation which would increase the government’s resources and taxes revenue, and permit the substantially greater investment required by the law and order and justice systems. It’s hardly surprising that contemporary India also has perhaps the world’s lowest police-people ratio — 14 per million.

Learned judges of the Supreme and high courts would do well to look beyond interpretation of pedantic points of law to examine ways and means to reform obsolete, time-wasting legal procedures and enable the ease of wealth generation in India.

They should note that in the matter of enforcement of contracts, India is ranked #63 on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index. In the final analysis, it’s money that greases all machinery.

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