This article is the final part of the two-part series discussing the perils in the path of India becoming a superpower.
Law enforcement and the judicial system are the pillars on which the effectiveness of justice delivery depends. We have looked at the problems bugging India’s law enforcement in the first part of the article. Here we discuss the judiciary.
The primary problem with the Indian judiciary is the pendency of cases. At the time of this writing, a total of 37,206,322 are pending before the District and subordinate courts in India. Another 5,660,908 cases, of which 87.54% are cases more than a year old, are pending before the High Courts in India. The result is one of an overburdened and sub-optimal judiciary. Some estimates put the time taken to resolve all the pending cases before the Indian Courts close to 300 years! So, what is the way forward?
One suggestion is to establish appellate courts to expedite the pending cases. Courts of appeals at the district level, state level and national level can help reduce the burden on the courts. The Supreme Court of India also acts as an appellate Court, apart from acting as the Constitutional Court (which the Court can do under Article 133 and 134 of the Indian Constitution in civil and criminal matters respectively). This puts additional burden on the Supreme Court, and it is in fact plagued by a huge workload. To reduce this burden, the appellate work of the Supreme Court may be separated by setting up a Supreme Appellate Court, and its benches could be set up across the country. Apart from this, cognitive technologies could be incorporated into the dispute resolution mechanism (in civil cases). For instance, the biggest litigants today are the various governments in India. Government officials, who decide not to appeal an adverse order, often run the risk of having to justify why they did not pursue the matter more vigorously. Incorporating cognitive technologies can help these officials analyse the chances of a successful appeal better. They can also help the judges in the decision-making process, which could lead to faster decisions and thus, could dispose of a case quickly. But most important of all, the lower rung of courts should be strengthened by filling the vacancies, establishing new posts and developing the infrastructure; for, most of the cases are filed at the lower level and most of the disputes are settled there itself.
Another problem with the courts today is the lack of accountability. The introduction of the collegium system in 1998 means that the judges across all the Indian courts are appointed by the higher courts but not the political executive. This is clearly against the principle of checks and balances. The Government of India tried to establish a National Judicial Appoints Committee in 2014. Despite the Parliament of India clearing it, the Supreme Court struck it down saying it violated ‘the basic structure’ doctrine. Collegium, therefore, can only be abolished if all the members of Parliament come together and stand up to the highest court of the land and force its hand. They should do it because it is in the best interest of the country. The Supreme Court should also exercise restraint when it wades into the duties of the executive and legislature and uphold the doctrine of separation of powers. This judicial activism, which has sometimes worked well to deliver justice, has also harmed the Indian economy (from the cancelation of 2G spectrum auctions, the cancellation of coal licences to the recent staying of the farm laws enacted by the Indian Parliament).
After all is said and done, the judiciary, for all its failures, provides places for discussion and debate. IT acts as a forum for a certain amount of churn. Reforming the judiciary, therefore, is in the best interest of India.
Social indicators should be improved
We Indians are constantly obsessed with ranks. “India is the world’s fastest growing economy,” “India is the world’s third largest economy” we exclaim. But economic growth is not everything, we forget. A look at the social indicators of the country paints a much darker picture. India lags behind its neighbours in human development and social development indicators.
By comparing India with its neighbours, we can analyse the situation. The infant mortality rate, the number of infant deaths per 1,000 births, is 32 in India while it was 27 in Bangladesh in 2017. As of 2015, India’s life expectancy is 68.35, lagging behind Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Between 2003 and 2015 Bangladesh was successful in bringing down the open-defecation rate from 43% to 1%, while India is still struggling with it. Back in 2010 only, infant immunization for DPT and measles in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal was about 80%, while India stood somewhere around 65%. In terms of sanitation facilities too, India’s neighbours outperform, though the situation is improving in India. The first phase of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) released in December 2020 indicates that India could be seeing an increase in child undernutrition. Child undernutrition, measured using three indicators namely stunting, wasting and underweight, has grown in many of the states in the latest NFHS. A rise in the all-India figures would mean that India is reversing the gains it had achieved since 1998-1999. Of all, the problem of stunting is serious in that it affects the cognitive abilities of the children and it could take up to three generations to undo the problem.
It is not that the Indian government is not capable of delivering things. It had successfully carried out the polio vaccination programme and eradicated polio. More recently, it succeeded in getting the people to wear masks to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and proved false the many estimates which predicted 200-300 million deaths due to the pandemic. To improve the social indicators, the government can start by educating people through spreading information via cell phones when someone calls the other. Most importantly, NGOs in India are doing a commendable job in tackling various social problems in India. Government can very well incorporate them and work alongside them to change things where India’s performance lacks.
There are many other areas which need complete overhaul or effective management. For instance, from modernization of military equipment to facing the challenge of low diplomatic corps, India’s external security faces many challenges. India faces major national security challenges from a more authoritative China and an unstable Pakistan. Another area is that of data collection. Data collection faces huge problems and the depth of the problem is drastic. Often, due to lack of coordination among the various government departments, same data is collected by different departments and, sometimes, the departments arrive at different conclusions! To make cross-state comparisons, one often has to move mountains to gather and then interpret data. It is important to have standardised data collection mechanisms and data interpretations platforms so as to formulate policies that are relevant.
Finally, the problems are huge. And they should be fixed if India has any hopes of playing an important role globally. India faces a (funny?) paradox. On the one hand, various governments in India are among the largest employment providers in the country and on the other practically every department is understaffed. This tells us that we need more personnel, but in the right places. India should also invest in creating a knowledge base for all relevant and necessary functions.
India is a pre-industrial economy living through an information age. Often, the state has to play a strong role in an industrial economy, but has to take a back seat in the information economy. How the Indian state sets about resolving this paradox also determines India’s future. If we look at history, the most resistance to change comes from villages; and they tend to become violent to resist change. This also presents India with unique challenges. However, the biggest of the problems is in realising all that we have discussed are not any of these. It is that these policies present huge political risks. In a country where the political representation is so heavily skewed towards rural India, whose population is about 30%-40%, the political priorities are also skewed towards rural India and their problems. India needs a leader who focuses on not winning the next election, but on doing the right thing, to get what we have discussed done. That leader may not come to power, but he/she/the will forever changed the fate of the country for the better.
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