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Understanding Budgets on E-Courts and Judicial Infrastructure
#4 Understanding Budgets on E-Courts and Judicial Infrastructure with Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, 17th February 2022
Justice Hub and Civis hosted the 4th Twitter Spaces conversation with Shreya Tripathi and Reshma Shekhar, who form a part of the Justice, Access and Lowering Delays Initiative (JALDI) at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. Here is a quick recap of the key points that emerged during the discussion.
What are the areas of law and justice JALDI works on, and in what ways do budgets or budget data tie into that work?
In 2017, Vidhi started its multi-year mission – JALDI to study, understand, and address the problem of judicial backlog and delays in India. Through the last 5 years, JALDI has published research on gender diversity in the Indian judiciary, judicial infrastructure budgetary allocations for courts in India, etc. The budget for justice became an important consideration for JALDI when in 2018, there was commissioning of an all India survey at the district court level to measure the state of their physical infrastructure. The survey revealed that-
The basic amenities needed for the minimal functioning of the court was missing.
This was not due to the lack of funds.
But misunderstanding and confusion about the nature of the Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) that takes care of the budget allocated for the development of the Judiciary at the centre and state level both.
This made JALDI look into the budgets for justice in order to understand the CSS better.
2 reports were released: Budgeting Better for Courts and Back to Basics: A Call for Better Planning in the Judiciary, in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
In Budgeting Better for Courts,an audit of nearly Rs. 7460 crores that have been released under the CSS for Development of Infrastructure Facilities for the Judiciary was conducted. What are some of the key findings from this work?
First, an introduction of how the CSS functions: the CSS functions through a sharing pattern meaning that the State Governments has to match the grants from the Central Government in a ratio. Currently, this is 60:40 for Centre and State, respectively. At the central level, the Department of Justice (DoJ) is the nodal agency and the respective States’ Law Department (and in certain cases, the Home Department), is responsible at the State level. The report shows:
There is no measure under the scheme to ensure transparency and accountability. The DoJ has yet to release any authoritative figures as to how many residential buildings and courts have been built under this scheme (since its start in 1993).
The states are granted money arbitrarily, for eg, some states, like Orissa, have received nothing in the last 5 years, however, states with comparatively better infrastructure like Karnataka and Maharastra are given 50 crores per year.
Certain states project a significantly higher amount than what is granted under CSS. The states have failed to realise that the allocation made is dependent upon the overall availability of funds with the Centre.
The system is a long-winded bureaucracy, starting from the DoJ, Law Departments, Finance Departments, sometimes Home Department; then comes District Collectors, PWD Workers, Building Agencies and finally authorities within the court itself.
JALDI has done extensive work and research in the eCourts project. What does the nature of the project mean in terms of budgetary allocations and expenditures?
That the future model of the Indian Judiciary is the hybrid form was realised during the pandemic.
A survey undertaken by the Chief Justice of India shows that 27 % of the judges in the country do not have digital devices and 10% of these courts do not have access to the internet, showing that the basic infrastructure to implement the eCourts project is missing. A certain portion of the budget needs to be allocated to ensure such availability.
eCourts budget allocation will also play an important role in the training of the court staff and the judges in order for them to use the newly introduced applications and the software seamlessly.
Developing the applications and the software to comprehend judicial data itself will be a complex procedure as the data itself is very complex. This requires a higher level of expertise which is another sector where budget plays a role.
When trying to understand the capacity of the judiciary and our court systems, and making sense of budgetary allocations and expenditures from the union or the states governments, what is it that we need to keep in mind? What are the challenges of working with budget data?
The greatest challenge is figuring out the source of the allocation of funds (as there are too many schemes) and the process of grant of such allocation.
Different states maintain judicial data differently which is another challenge that is encountered by those working with budgets. This is where organisations like Justice Hub become a great help as they are trying to consolidate all this data and bring them to one source which is very helpful.
Efforts are getting made to ensure transparency and accountability, such as the Nyaya Vikas Portal, which provides some data, however, a lot of data is government facing (as in one needs a login ID for access).
What are the top 3 points on your Wishlist that can transform budgetary data?
Read previous Substack posts here.
Tune in to the next conversation on understanding budgets and justice delivery in India with Maja Daruwala and Valay Singh from India Justice Report.
Date: February 25th, at 5 pm.
Venue: On Twitter Spaces here.