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Citizen’s Justice ~II

A better system of monitoring and supervision aided and assisted by the tools of information technology, better training of officials, better briefing of lawyers, better logistics and  financial resources, an efficient pool of more experienced lawyers and timely disposal of court orders coupled with efficient service delivery in different government offices are urgently warranted if we are to become an extended part of the initiative to expedite the disposal of humongous court cases in this country.

Saumitra Mohan | Kolkata |

Many of these departments that are facing a massive number of litigations either don’t have the complete record of the court cases filed against them or have actually lost track of the number of cases because of different structural constraints, including poor recordkeeping. This makes it well-nigh impossible to dispose of the same efficiently and effectively. Hence, instead of proactively dealing with these cases, they are usually found to be only reacting to the immediate and emergent court orders as they come. Often, the issues involved in court cases are not attended to and disposed of by the official respondents on the plea of the matter being sub judice. However, they need to understand that as long as there is no express judicial prohibition or injunction against proceeding further, one can very well dispose of the cases.

This should be definitely done, at least, after the writ petitions are filed without waiting for the final order. If the petitioners’ claims are admissible as per the extant government rules, orders and guidelines, the same should be granted right away without awaiting the final order. Again, if the petitioners’ claims have not been granted or delayed due to some systemic lapses or wrong interpretation of the obtaining government rules and orders, the respondents should allow the same forthwith as long as there is no stay-order or specific instruction of the relevant court against doing the same. The miscommunication, discommunication or the misrepresentation of facts and circumstances sometimes results in the judicial direction being served even upon those officials or agencies which are not connected with the compliance or where the actions or compliances with the relevant court orders don’t lie.

The petitioners’ lawyers sometimes implicate the superior officials as respondents just to force an early decision and action in the matter. The ploy often works as the senior officials’ attention, once drawn to the details and merit of the case, ensures early disposal of the cases in line with the demands of the petitioners. However, hauling those who are not responsible for compliance or delayed action on court orders seems to be against the grain of justice. Usually, the lower-level functionaries are hobbled by the bureaucratese or administrative red tapism for obtaining permission of their superior authorities for filing an appeal in time or for complying with a mandatory court order because of their conflicts with the extant government orders, guidelines or policies or simply because the same is beyond their jurisdiction.

The departmental protocol, rules of business or standard operating procedure often warrant these functionaries to obtain such prior approval before proceeding or taking a decision on such court orders whose compliance may have implications and ramifications for the existing government policy. Often some court orders impose a financial liability on the government by way of cost, penalty or creation of recurring financial burden by sanctioning employments which also require reference to the higher authority for permission of compliance, more so when an appeal is being contemplated. Often late filing or mentioning of appeal before the relevant courts by the Government lawyers also results in adverse court orders. It is because of the unusual delay resulting in the compliance with some of the court orders that many of the subordinate government officers and functionaries are sometimes unwittingly rapped on the knuckles for no fault of theirs by the upholders of justice.

More often than not, these officers or agencies are unable to report the reason for non-compliance with a particular order in the open court for bringing any aspersions to their superior competent authorities for not incurring their wrath. Often, such decisions and permission for compliance keep hanging fire for months together for unknown reasons, thereby bringing trouble to the poor subordinate officials in the line of fire who meekly face the music and humiliation in open court. If the relevant files or chain of correspondence are duly checked, the onus for non-compliance shall squarely shift to the portals of those who easily escape through the systemic gaping holes.

The fire and brimstone courtroom atmospherics on certain days also pre-empts against the dispassionate hearing of the court cases, thereby discouraging younger and inexperienced lawyers to place the facts before the court. But, that is more of an exception than a rule. The personal appearance of the officials heading the offices attracting a large number of court cases further compromise the systemic efficiencies of these agencies, offices and departments. Because of the dearth of an adequate number of dedicated officers and staff members, such officers spend most of their time in court attending to multiple calls for personal appearance, filing affidavits or holding conferences with their lawyers, thereby making them unavailable for attending to regular office functions and responsibilities.

This not only compromises their primary responsibilities and assignments, the same also makes it difficult for them to organise themselves within the limited resources and logistics for attending to the newer or older court cases for working on the systemic improvements or the quality of disposal of such cases. They are found to be mostly reacting to the latest court orders being served upon them, hardly finding time to proactively attend to the same, not to speak of finding time to monitor and supervise other services and functions of their offices. The problem gets further magnified due to the absence of an adequate number of empanelled government lawyers and pleaders to attend to the huge load of court cases.

The problematic and byzantine process of their empanelment often leaves much to be desired. Because of multiple cases being listed in different courts simultaneously, the lawyers find it difficult to attend to all of them because of which they are unable to appear in particular courts to defend the government’s positions thereby attracting adverse or ex parte orders. The delayed payment of remuneration of these lawyers also demotivates them for attending to government cases. Fees for the empanelled lawyers in many parts of the country are often so low that it becomes very difficult to convince senior and experienced lawyers to come on the government’s panels. Poor homework, shoddy groundwork and weak defence by some pleaders and lawyers are the other reasons for adverse orders against the Government’s interests.

More often than not, a lack of timely communication among different stakeholders including government respondents and pleaders also results in government interests being compromised in many of the court cases. Besides, overload of work and absence of officers and staff members also mean that many of normal office duties are often compromised and remain unattended, thereby inviting increasing number of court cases. The vicious circle only ends up multiplying the number of pending cases. A nexus of middlemen and vested interests at different tiers also ensures the systemic dysfunctionalalities, thereby encouraging poor work culture or a popular penchant to resort to court cases than trying better and less expensive avenues.

A timely, faster and transparent disposal of pending petitions and applications for availing different government services and benefits in various offices, as is being done in many parts of the country, shall save costs both for the government and the common people. Ergo, it is more than desirable to improve systemic efficiency through process re-engineering and better service delivery mechanism. Hence, it is also advisable that the problems and challenges as identified above are duly addressed for speedier disposal of pending work in different government offices and departments while also devising an efficient and effective mechanism for the faster disposal of pending cases.

A better system of monitoring and supervision aided and assisted by the tools of information technology, better training of officials, better briefing of lawyers, better logistics and financial resources, an efficient pool of more experienced lawyers and timely disposal of court orders coupled with efficient service delivery in different government offices are urgently warranted if we are to become an extended part of the initiative to expedite the disposal of humongous court cases in this country. Once this is ensured, we can promise justice to every citizen while firmly establishing and strengthening the ‘Rule of Law’ in our country.

(Concluded)

(The writer is an IAS officer, presently posted as the Commissioner of School Education, West Bengal. Views are personal and don’t reflect those of the Government)