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A Conversation with India Justice Report
Concluding the ‘Series of Dialogues on Law and Justice Budget Data’, co-hosted by Justice Hub and Civis, our final conversation was with Maja Daruwala and Valay Singh of India Justice Report to understand budgets and justice delivery in India across four pillars - police, judiciary, legal aid and prisons. Below we provide an excerpt of the conversation and some key takeaways.
We also thank all our friends and collaborators at Civis, Daksh, Project 39A, Artha India, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, Studio Nilima and India Justice Report for participating in this series and unpacking some critical issues in law and justice budgets.
#6 Budgets and Justice Delivery in India, 25th February 2022
Published by Tata Trust, the India Justice Report (IJR) is an annual publication that uses openly available government data to rank states on their justice delivery capacity based upon the 4 pillars of our justice system, Police, Judiciary, Prisons and Legal Aid. The core group of the IJR consists of the Centre for Social Justice, Common Cause, CHRI, DAKSH, Prayas, and Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.
What inspired you to create the India Justice Report and use openly available data to rank justice delivery in different states and union territories?
Maja Daruwala: Several of us (forming the core group at IJR) were working in the same area of justice delivery and each of us had our own specialisations and our own information in one sector or another, but often were not informed about the other, all of which goes to creating a narrative about justice reform. So we came together to look at all the 4 pillars of the justice system concurrently, i.e police, prisons, legal aid and judiciary.
We also recognised that the policymakers also suffered from working in silos, the media suffered from the complexity of all the data so how to simplify it; civil society often had a place at the government table but did not have the requisite objective hard data to back their arguments. So, we decided to take a holistic view and try to simplify the data as much as we could and create it in a simplified form, which would not only then start conversations about the importance of reforming the justice system, but also indicate that with these kinds of capacities, what are the possible areas and directions for going ahead.
Because we wanted to make it into something that people would pay attention to, we were careful not to bring in subjectivities as much as we could but to reflect back upon the government’s own benchmarks and their own data. So that people started to talk about justice just like we have started to talk about education and health as a public good that must be available at your doorstep. I guess, these are the things that inspired us.
IJR has been following this year's budget session closely, along with analysing how budgetary allocations are moved across different schemes of the justice system. Could you give us a brief overview of what you are seeing and what does that mean for access to justice? What direction are we headed in this year?
Valay Singh:Analysing budgets for justice, at least for us, is a new thing. This is the first time we did an analysis of the budget on the day of the budget. What we find is that the justice pillars form a shared responsibility between the Centre and the States, but the larger onus is on the State. In this latest budget, we looked at the allocation for schemes at the central level towards police modernisation, National Legal Services Authority, judicial infrastructure for lower courts and so on. We find that there’s an overall inadequacy of funds available but that's not the only problem. There is also a systemic issue of unavailability of the capacity to utilise fully what you do get from the centre. Illustratively, looking at the police modernisation fund, this year’s national figure is about 620 crore which is quite low when compared to states’ individual police budgets that generally go into thousands. For Uttar Pradesh, this goes up to 14 lakh crores, Himachal Pradesh spends about 2 lakh crores, and Kerala spends nearly 3 lakh crores. Sometimes, the central fund's categories for expenditure are not what the state wants to spend on for the particular year and then what happens is the fund lapses and goes back, remaining unutilised. The budget for justice also needs to be looked at at the state level and that is a mammoth task.
You have now published 2 reports, for 2019 and 2020, and there is one currently under the works for 2021. Which are some of the best and worst performing states in terms of budgetary allocations and utilization?
Valay Singh:We do bring out a report which is based on the latest available data, so speaking as per our report, every state performs differently. For example, states like Uttarakhand, Chandigarh, Tamil Nadu fully utilise their prison budget but this is so for a certain year. The same states might not have been able to utilise their modernisation grant. They might not have provided enough for their legal aid. So to say that if we can name a state, at the moment which is doing very well on just budget indicators, in my reckoning, it's not the case. Every state is doing differently. For example in Andhra Pradesh the spend per inmate is in a year is about ₹2,00,000 roughly, in Rajasthan it is as low as ₹16,000. There are variations. Nagaland and AFSPA states spend more than ₹5000 per capita on policing. Right now, if we just go by ranking, then Nagaland would come out on top. But does it reflect the lived experience? The reality of policing in an AFSPA State? It does not. So our budget indicator, our budget analysis is a tool, it is not a certificate. It is a tool to highlight that there is an issue of fiscal inadequacy and that's what we're trying to highlight so I would really refrain from saying that this state is the best according to the last report.
Maja Daruwala:The Report is not a judgement on anything. It is a place to start conversations. Another issue about budgetary allocation and utilization that is often forgotten is that almost 80-90%, sometimes more is just spent on recurring expenditures like salaries. So that leaves very little space and ability to do long term planning for other things. And one of the things that this report brings forth is just that kind of thing, that if 9/10th of what you have in your pocket is spent on just salaries for that year then what happens to recruiting or improving infrastructure?
Additionally, upon going forward, it would be valuable to look at what the expenditure in urban and rural populations in the delivery of justice is because a major part of the country population still lives in rural areas and small towns. You can't say that the need for justice or the ability to access justice, there is a differential between urban and rural. Everyone has the same requirement of justice and the state needs to deliver it immediately and efficiently, no matter whether it is in an urban, or rural landscape.
Could you share with us 2 striking data points from your analysis related to budgets for prisons, judiciary, legal aid or police?
Maja Daruwala:One of the things that struck me was how little spend there is on training. Training is the seminal underwriting of later performance, whether it's police or judges or even prison staff. You need a modicum of training, a modicum of reorientation, a modicum of bringing people to a page so that there is a high level of institutional culture and knowledge with which to go about one’s work. And yet, training comprises of very little spend, and I'm wondering whether it is okay to neglect training so much. There are other things also. For instance, prison policy recommends prisons to evolve from being a retributive place where you just dump people to a rehabilitative place where people are helped to get back into society. But when you see the expenditures on probation officers, staff, on social services and actually see how many people there are on the ground, it is so minuscule that you cannot but help say that there is no chance of translating the policy prescription into real life.
Valay Singh:Adding to that, nationally, of the total budget, only 1.3% is being spent on training as of the latest year which might be argued as sufficient, however, the reflection of this is clear when you see how police behave and numbers have shown that about one in 4 policemen were trained in the last 5 years (according to a Common Causes Report). As for prisons, 17 states are spending less than ₹100 a day per inmate. This includes 10 large and mid-size states and we have to remember that nearly 2/3rd of the inmates are undertrials.
To hear the entire conversation, learn more about the process that goes behind creating a publication like the India Justice Report and the speakers’ recommendations for this and subsequent budget cycles, tune in to the conversation here.
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