Editor's Note: This is a three-part series on Aam Aadmi Party's impact on the state of democracy, development and rule of law in Delhi that remains undocumented by the press. An insider’s look at National Capital's transforming legislative, executive and judiciary through public participation, co-creation and citizen-centric decision-making. This is the first part of the series.
In predictable Indian public discourse where state capacity is low and the rule of law is ineffective, the concept of justice is shaped by the reactions and decisions taken in high-profile cases. The prerequisites to the broader efficiency in the delivery of justice and reduced pendency of cases aren’t subjects of public speculation.
When the Aam Aadmi Party came to power in 2015, one of its core concerns was to make justice accessible to the common man and increase the operational productivity in the justice ecosystem of citizens, lawyers and judges. Here’s a look at what transpired slowly and steadily without finding much attention from either the press or the Opposition.
On 15 January, 2014, when the 49-day AAP government was in power, in the case of DDA vs Sh. Ram Kumar Gupta, a judgment penned by Justice Ravindra Bhat was pronounced. In this case, the petitioner owned nine bighas of land notified for acquisition. The petitioner applied for allotment of an alternative industrial plot under a scheme which enabled owners (whose land were subject of acquisition) on 21.07.1971. The DDA made an allotment on 19.07.1978 in respect of plot measuring 2,000 square yards in Okhla Industrial Area with a basis in a Master plan brought into force in 1962.
However, the DDA, even after twenty-five years of the acquisition, made this the basis for rejection of the petitioner's application, after it had received consideration repeatedly at several levels of decision making. The judgment stated: “Likewise, each time the DDA rejected the petitioner's application, it cited a new reason: in 1990, it stated that the lands were needed for railways: a reason soon found to be incorrect, as it turned out that land user had not been verified when such letter was written.”
The court was of the view that the DDA cannot have a grievance because the single judge entertained the writ petition. Its own conduct precluded it from setting up such a technical plea. Each time it turned down the petitioner's application, different reasons were cited.”
The reason for citing this case is simple: the DDA’s functioning has over the years swayed to the tune of bureaucratic whims which stemmed from an unstable master plan and its complicated effects on Delhi’s development. And the workings of the DDA were known to those in the judiciary, given the frequency of such cases.
In February 2015, swiftly after coming into power, the Government of NCT informed the Delhi High Court that it has asked the departments concerned to inform it about the availability of land for construction of more court complexes in the National Capital.
A bench of justices S Ravindra Bhat and RK Gauba was also informed by Deputy Secretary, Department of Law, Justice and Legislative Affairs that, it has also sought information with regard to the availability of vacant buildings which can be temporarily used for accommodating the courts. The government's response was in line with the high court’s request to the Delhi government to provide more court space and infrastructure for the judicial officers in the National Capital.
This governance action was repeated as a specific poll promise in the 70-point action plan.
It had also said that the Chief Secretary shall consult the concerned agencies such as the Land and Development Officer, the DDA, the NDMC, the PWD and the Delhi High Court and suggest such suitable mechanism which shall monitor on uniform basis the identification of land, progress of various clearances such as funding, approvals, sanctions and constructions of the court buildings. This was a landmark move, in an instance freeing up the ideal of justice from the clutches of departmental bungling and administrative notoriety.
The construction of new courts that weren’t on Delhi Development Authority (DDA) land and were thus free of repeatedly establishing their own legal status thus became a priority for the AAP-led government. For instance, the new Rouse Avenue Court Complex has been constructed where all anti-corruption cases, the ideological baseline for AAP and IAC, will now on be tried. Similarly, in 2016, a Delhi cabinet meeting chaired by the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal sanctioned Rs 116 crore for the construction of a new block at the High Court of Delhi. The Building Maintenance & Construction Committee (BMCC) of the High Court of Delhi had proposed construction of this new building on 2.74-acre land at Bapa Nagar, Zakir Hussain Marg, New Delhi to meet the requirement of additional infrastructure facilities on account of increased workload and increase in sanctioned strength of the judges of the high court.
The cabinet has also approved Department of Law’s proposal of construction of 144 numbers of temporary courtrooms in the existing court complexes of Tis Hazari, Saket and Karkardooma. The Delhi Government has also improved the justice delivery system around commercial disputes and crimes against women, which has been sped up by setting up 22 new commercial courts and 18 permanent fast-track courts in Delhi with an increase in the logistical, structural and legal resources at each of them.
Kejriwal has, at every public event and governance speech with the judiciary and public, continued his unwavering and unconditional support to staffing our courts and judicial ecosystem to their sanctioned strength urging the Government of India and Supreme Court to implement the same.
When an officer is directly accountable to the LG (Home Secretary) or the Delhi High Court (Law Secretary), and hasn’t been able to or allowed to implement AAP plans like two-shift courts or judge appointments, we have ensured that funds, permissions or clearances from the Delhi Government are ready and available for the respective institutions to close the governance loop.
Once the infrastructure was in place, it was necessary to fill it up with skilled professionals and empower them.
The Government of NCT of Delhi has not only created new posts and filled vacancies in the law department but also set aside Rs 50 crore under the Chief Minister Advocate Welfare Scheme to support lawyers in the National Capital and also installed Mohalla clinics in the vicinity of courts.
The Delhi cabinet has decided to convert commercial electricity connections to domestic ones in chambers of advocates in Delhi. With this decision, like other domestic users, advocates will also receive benefits like any Delhi citizen. Funds have also been sanctioned for the construction of judicial officers' residential complexes at Dwarka and Rohini.
The Aam Aadmi Party has also batted for the revision of pay scales of public prosecutors so as to match their counterparts in other states. The exemplary work done by the Delhi government-appointed public prosecutors in Nirbhaya case and Ankit Saxena honour killing case needs no introduction.
The AAP-led government has constantly supported all aspects of the judicial ecosystem. By releasing funds timely to Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) for compensation claims of victims, free and competent legal service to the weaker sections of the society are being provided and that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
The India Justice Report 2019 prepared by the Tata Trusts in collaboration with the Centre for Social Justice, Common Cause, and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative stated, "On average, no state or UT apart from Delhi spent even 1 percent of its budget on the judiciary. Nationally, India spends 0.08 percent. All states combined (excluding the Central government) spent 0.54 percent of their total expenditure on the judiciary in 2015–2016. Just one state/UT spent more than 1 percent, which was Delhi, with 1.9 percent. Beyond Delhi, the percentage of budget spent on judiciary ranged from 0.1 percent (Arunachal Pradesh) to 0.96 percent (Punjab). There were eighteen states spending between 0.5 percent and 1 percent on the judiciary, including thirteen from our large and mid-size states."
The report further stated that if the courts were to work at full capacity across India, there would be a shortfall of 4,071 court halls. The existing number of court halls is more than enough to accommodate the working strength of the judiciary, as it stood on March 2018.
According to National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), the five states which account for the highest pendency are Uttar Pradesh (61.58 lakh), Maharashtra (33.22 lakh), West Bengal (17.59 lakh), Bihar (16.58 lakh) and Gujarat (16.45 lakh). In this context, the work of the AAP to empower lawyers and the judiciary is commendable.
The delivery of justice, however, is not just the eminent domain of lawyers and judges. There are numerous interventions in governance that can assist and implement the delivery of justice. For example, this is a copy of the cabinet decision forming a Group of Ministers on Safety of Women & Children in Delhi of which I was an ex-officio member working closely with Abhishek Tewari and Mrinal Satish, lawyers who worked with the JS Verma Committee.
We brought in women lawyers from National Law University, Delhi, and along with expert consultation came up with specific implementable solutions.
We realised, through classroom discussions in Delhi government schools, that crimes such as voyeurism and stalking were massively under-reported, the forensic analysis took a long time, and compensation for rape survivors and acid attack victims weren’t made available till the legal proceedings started.
These were things the Delhi government could fix independent of the Delhi Police or Delhi High Court. Internalising the ecosystem within the judiciary has also helped the government identify the consequences of crimes more effectively.
The government made claiming compensation much easier for acid attack and rape survivors and shifted the burden of proof from citizens to the State. It stated that various departments will submit a list of pendency of cases with special prosecutors, set up forensic labs to ensure investigations are fair and not tampered with and install CCTV cameras to light up dark spots.
All these policy decisions have been followed up on and implemented by the agencies of the Delhi government from 2016 to mid-2018. For the betterment of the turnaround time in DNA investigation, the Delhi government augmented and transformed for the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL).
The FSL now has human and scientific resources to ensure its service level assurances and ultra-modern facilities for testing of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, advanced narco analysis and brain mapping facilities for psychological examination, and advanced crime scene examination and investigation services (24X7).
The government took a citizen-centric view towards law and justice where agencies such as MCD or DDA are erring in their constitutional mandates by pivoting to schemes that empower citizens to solve problems themselves. After lighting the dark spots across the city with discoms, PWD and non-profits working on women safety, the Delhi government hit a dead end with unauthorised colonies, slums, colonies under DDA and roads under MCD.
Here, we implemented the Mukhyamantri Street Light Yojana, giving 2.1 lakh streetlights (of three types: 10 W, 25 W and 40 W) and paying for the bills of these lights through discoms for 70 constituencies. It also ensured that compensation schemes like the Disaster Relief Fund for agriculturists and the families of victims of 1984 anti-Sikh riots was made independent of Central schemes, increased dramatically and delivered to the city’s citizens swiftly by the revenue department. The state took responsibility instead of letting misplaced and misaligned authority delay the process of justice.
Aside from this, the Home Department of the Government of NCT of Delhi has focused on the aspect of ‘reform’ as integral to the judicial system and has granted in-principle approval to Tihar Jail authorities' proposal to unveil a semi-open prison (SOP) to reform convicts, reward their good conduct and prepare them for reintegration into life outside.
Again, this is a far cry from conversations around politics of parole, policy of release and incarceration of famous or infamous personalities, whose fates are always controlled by electoral polls and results as well as the Minister of Home Affairs in the Government of India.
Interestingly, in order to follow a bottom-up approach and truly service the grassroots, the MLA Local Area Development (LAD) fund has been increased 250 percent: from Rs 4 crore to Rs 10 crore. By allocating more funds into the local problems of their constituencies, the legislators can really decentralise the process so as to truly pursue social justice.
This has been used to create secure community demarcations, community spaces like parks and reading centres and neighbourhood watch initiatives as well.
Justice, in AAP’s view, isn’t limited to that handful of judgments that catch public attention and are given political spin, but the resolve to ensure it doesn’t remain pending in the court of law. Justice is not a political achievement or something that calls for a collective celebration.
Justice is the norm and good governance is about staying committed towards it without repeatedly asserting that commitment.
The author has been a volunteer with Aam Aadmi Party and advisor in the Delhi Government since 2014. He holds two graduate degrees in public policy and engineering from Stanford University and was formerly an RA with MIT JPAL.
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Updated Date: Feb 04, 2020 15:05:01 IST