Saturday, August 9, 2014

Good governance and justice for the common man

The present government’s commitment to ‘maximum governance with minimum government’ is well known. This has also been adequately reflected in the ten-point road map set out immediately after the new government was sworn in. It encompassed matters relating to economy; infrastructure; people oriented systems; education, health and water. Included also were transparency in government, building of confidence in bureaucracy, innovative ideas for governance, resolution of inter-ministerial issues, stability in government policies and time bound implementation of policies.

However, while the confidence building in bureaucracy has made the list, an important point missing is the building of confidence in judiciary, which is also deeply linked to the justice for the common man.

So, there is need for a debate about accelerating the measures for restoring the confidence in the judiciary which, from the advent of civilization has been of utmost importance as a part of good governance.  

To elaborate it further, it would be pertinent to have a look at the meaning of governance.  It simply means “the action or manner of governing a state, organization ...” and that would obviously include conducting of public affairs in a manner that would render good justice to the subjects of a state.

It is notable that Naïf Al-Rodham, in his 2009 book Sustainable History and the Dignity of Man: a Philosophy of History and Civilisation Triumph, had included participation, equity, and inclusiveness as well as the rule of law in the eight minimum criteria for ensuring good national governance.

In this connection, the following quotes from our scriptures, Manu Smriti and Kautilya’s Arthashastra are also relevant:

Manu Smriti:

 Chapter VIII, Para 12: “But where justice, wounded by injustice, approaches and the judges do not extract the dart, there (they also) are wounded (by that dart of injustice).”
Chapter VIII, Para 15: “Justice, being violated, destroys; justice, being preserved, preserves: therefore justice must not be violated, lest violated justice destroy us.”

Kautilya’s Arthashastra

Book III, Chapter I:  Concerning Law: "As the duty of a king (and the administrators of justice) consists in protecting his subjects with justice, its observance leads him to heaven.”.

Unfortunately, however, the present Indian legal system, a legacy of the British, is inadequate and needs a lot of fresh thinking and corrective actions by the government. 

One problem which the government has to address is the acute suffering which the common man seeking justice in India faces due to inordinate delays, high costs and limited reach to the judicial forums. This is aggravated by the fact that there is long pendency of cases in the courts. The figures are stunning.  Pending cases in Supreme Court are around 65,970 (as on 1.7.2014); in High Courts around 4.5 million and in district courts over 26 million in 2013.  This massive grid-locking at the judiciary needs to be undone by immediate filling of vacancies, appointment of new judges and adoption of new technologies.

 Another is the restoration of trust in the judiciary, which has been declining of late.  This can be achieved by ensuring the transparency in the judicial appointments, independence of judiciary, and institutional checks and balances. Whether the collegium system, which works in a the exclusive domain of judiciary in a closed environment,  and where one set of judges take decisions about judicial appointments,  should be replaced by other systems with a broader  decision making platform  is a matter that has to be decided by the government expeditiously.  Same is the case about strengthening judiciary as an independent institution free from bureaucratic interference. Otherwise, the democratic fabric of our democracy would continue to be damaged.

There is  another important perspective to these problems, which the new government cannot overlook. By virtue of its constitution, India is a welfare state and as per the directive principles of state policy laid down in Part IV, the State has to promote the welfare of people by securing and procuring effectively a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life (italics mine).

It is imperative that  the  government, judiciary and the entire legal fraternity  rise to the aspirations of the common man and generate a judicial environment where mass public would be always comforted by a feeling that there is a fair and unbiased institution to provide speedy justice to him.

The author Ratan  Kaul can be contacted at: