Reducing backlog: Litigation policy good but not enough
The Tribune Friday, June 25, 2010, Chandigarh, India
The government as a ‘responsible and efficient’ litigant is an attractive proposition and the Union Law Minister’s belated announcement of a national policy to reduce the number of pending cases to achieve that end is certainly welcome. While over two crore cases are said to be pending before various courts in the country, Law Minister Veerappa Moily acknowledged that 70 per cent of them involve the government as either the petitioner or the respondent. Government litigation, as the Prime Minister once admitted, crowds out the private citizen from the system. Dr Manmohan Singh had then cited a survey conducted in Karnataka, where 65 per cent of the civil cases involved the government as litigant, sometimes on both sides. Under the new policy, the government would cease to be a ‘compulsive litigant’ and, as far as possible, would refrain from filing appeals against orders, assured the minister. The move will save the government both time and money as surveys reveal that the government actually loses over 90 per cent of the appeals.
A close watch would be kept on the implementation of the policy, said the minister and indicated that empowered committees, to be chaired at the national level by the Attorney-General, would be set up to monitor the implementation and fix the accountability of different departments. Though the objective is laudable, the measure is simply not enough. The government officials who fail to apply their mind and squander public money in unnecessary litigation must receive deterrent penalties for the policy to become effective. Government officers, who force citizens into protracted litigation to secure their dues like PF, pension, insurance or compensation, must also be held accountable. The Law Commission has often cited instances of the government pursuing frivolous litigation or as a “matter of prestige”. Often the officials are vindictive and vengeful, arrogant and determined to harass the citizens. For the policy to work, therefore, these busybodies must be made accountable for their action.
In its eagerness to reduce court cases, it is hoped, the government will not fall into the trap of letting off the big sharks. As it is, the Indian judiciary and the state are believed to be soft on the rich and the powerful. It would be tragic, therefore, if the really culpable, especially among the elite who bend the rules, are allowed to get away.
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