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Judiciary


Supreme Court case backlog falls below 60,000: (The Hindu)

Context

  • The Supreme Court has successfully managed to bring down its case backlog below 60,000 through concerted efforts.

The progress

  • Justice Dipak Misra took over as the Chief Justice of India on August 28 and the total pending cases in the apex court then stood at 57,774. In two months, this has been reduced by 2,174 cases.
  • Between August 28 and October 27, the number of filed cases stood at 7,021, while 9,195 cases were disposed of.
  • On May 1, 2017, the total case backlog in Supreme Court stood at 60,751 out of which 39 are constitution bench matters.

Why is it important?

  • Reduction in backlog cases in courts across the country has been a matter of priority for both the government and the apex court.
  • Justice delayed is justice denied. Backlog cases needs to be addressed for the welfare of the society.

What are the reasons behind the backlog?

Vacancies of judges

  • With about 30 million cases pending in various courts across the country, Indian judiciary is struggling to clear a huge backlog. If on an average three persons are involved in a case, then there are at least 90 million people waiting for justice.
  • Bulk of these cases is pending in subordinate courts thronged by poor litigants – who bear the brunt of the snail-paced system.
  • Of late, the problem has been compounded by the unprecedented increase in judicial vacancies across the three tiers of Judiciary. Official figures show, the SC is short of five judges, 24 High Courts have 464 vacant judges post and 4,166 at the subordinate courts.

Tiff between Judiciary and Government

  • Appointment to the Supreme Court and high courts are done by a collegium of the top court. But judges in the subordinate courts are appointed by the state high court. The stand – off between the government and the Supreme Court collegium over a memorandum of procedure has made things worse for judicial appointments in the higher judiciary.
  • The tussle between the government and the Supreme Court has adversely affected the efficiency of the judiciary. The arrears are mounting and new appointments are not being made.

Judge-population ratio

  • With a sanctioned strength of 21,000-odd judges, subordinate courts are under tremendous pressure as almost a quarter of the posts remain vacant, thanks to lack of advance planning and a poor recruitment policy.
  • The Law Commission and the Supreme Court recommended that India should have 50 judges per one million people, but the ratio continues to be abysmally low at 17 judges per one million people.
  • The Department of Justice has said the problem of shortage of judges is being addressed through a two-pronged strategy. Firstly, by filling up the large number of vacancies and secondly, increasing the sanctioned strength of judges.

Increasing literacy

  • Albeit at a slow pace, the number of cases being filed every year is increasing. An interesting reason for the same, apart from depleting moral conscience, is increased awareness, with increased
  • literacy. Kerala, for example, gets 28 new cases per 1,000 people. It has a literacy rate of over 90%. Jharkhand, which has a literacy rate of around 53%, gets four cases per 1,000.

Lower Courts

  • According to the National Judicial Data Grid website as on December 31, 2015, 2.6 crore cases are pending only in lower courts of which 41.38% cases have been pending for less than two years and 10.83% have been pending for over 10 years. This is a resultant of rampant bribes for bail and postponing dates.

Why is it getting worse?

  • Although the number of judges increased six-fold in the last three decades, the number of cases too shot up 12-fold, as per the 2012 report of the National Court Management Systems (NCMS).
  • Even by conservative estimates, the number of cases reaching courts will touch 15 crore, requiring at least 75,000 judges in the next three decades, the report said.
  • With growing literacy and income, more and more people are likely to approach courts, contributing to the burgeoning backlog of cases.

Solutions

  • There is a need to have access to high resolution data on judicial processes at both the high court as well as the lower court level. A number of courts do not have data under the “Date filed” column, the most crucial piece for identifying delays.
  • Fast track courts have proved their mettle, & their importance cannot be emphasized enough. On the recommendation of the 11th Finance Commission, 1734 Fast Track Courts of Sessions Judges were sanctioned for disposal of old pending cases and the said scheme was to end on 31-3-2005.
  • Out of 18,92,583 cases, 10,99,828 have been disposed of by these courts. Keeping in view the performance of Fast Track Courts and contribution made by them towards clearing the backlog, it can be further put to use.
  • Mobile courts that help taking justice to the door-step of the rural would significantly help in fighting the backlog.
  • The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 was enacted to provide free and competent legal service to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities. To achieve that objective, Lok Adalats are being held at various places in the country and a large number of cases are being disposed of with lesser costs.
  • Mobile Lok Adalats are presently in place in different parts of the State of Bihar and on the lines of steps taken by the High Court of Patna of holding mobile Lok Adalats, the other High Courts need also work on the same lines so that speedy and affordable justice could be made available to the litigants at their doorsteps.
  • Ministry of Law & Justice is going to draw a Gram Nyayalayas Bill with an objective to secure justice, both civil and criminal, at the grass-root level to the citizens, which would be the lowest court of subordinate judiciary and shall provide easy access to justice to litigant through friendly procedures, use of local language and mobile courts wherever necessary.
  • No judge specific metrics are available. With simple metrics like frequency of case disposal per judge or categorisation of subject matter with respect to judges, a great deal of accountability and trust would be brought into the system.
  • New technology should be leveraged, and not just technology for data collection. Artificial Intelligence is fast maturing and with further advances in machine learning, standardised data collection can assist judges in forming judgements. A software developed by Nine Research Institute in China helped 300 judges handle 1,50,000 cases, reducing their workload by a third.
  • Significant progress has been made towards computerisation of courts. However, computerisation must include within its ambit the standardisation of data collection across courts and not merely computerisation within silos.
  • Video conferencing is statutorily provided but rarely available in practice and infrequently used even if available. Accountability needs to be fixed on individuals causing repeated delays in dispensing justice.
  • Case management hearings should be introduced after pleadings have been completed by both parties where timelines are set and the court should impose sanctions against parties that fail to adhere to these timelines.
  • Indian judiciary should also consider a consolidated “Adjournment Manual” applicable across all courts which codifies the conditions under which adjournment should be granted in order to reduce arbitrariness.
  • Economic uncertainty in decision making is further compounded by periodic encroachment by the judiciary in the domain of the executive. Two recent examples are the high court of Tamil Nadu asking the state government to waive farmers’ loans and the highway liquor ban imposed by the Supreme Court. The short term perspective furthered by these encroachments is severely impacting long term predictability, consistency, and clarity of policies.
  • The high pendency in courts can decline only with effective measurement, process overhaul, constant feedback, and by equipping the judiciary with technology and modern tools. This alone can enable the emergence of a new and modern judicial system with the capacity to dispense justice speedily.

Way ahead

  • The Law Ministry’s Department of Justice discussed ways by which pendency of cases can be reduced.
  • The deliberations revealed that the Centre and the States were responsible for over 46% of the 3 crore plus cases pending before the Courts across the country. While all States have formulated State Litigation Policies, a National Litigation Policy is still underway. This Policy will be aimed at providing mechanisms to ensure reduction in Government litigation, and will lay emphasis on exploring alternative means of dispute resolution.

Suggestions

The Department went on to suggest the following ways to reduce pendency-

  • Appointment of a nodal officer in every department at the Joint Secretary Level to coordinate effective resolution of the disputes.
  • Nodal Officer to regularly monitor the status of the cases.
  • Promotion of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
  • Encouragement of mediation as the preferred form of dispute resolution in service related matters.
  • Avoiding unnecessary filing of appeals.
  • Consideration of an intuitional ADR mechanism for resolution of cases between the government and private bodies.
  • Immediate withdrawal of vexatious litigation.

International groupings and agreements


International conference to discuss ways to set up NGT-like tribunal: (Indian Express)

Context

  • The upcoming International Conference on Environment 2017 on November 3 and 4 will admit countries interested in learning to follow the path of a tribunal like the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

What is the purpose of the conference?

  • The main purpose of the conference is to promote environmental awareness in India and other south Asian countries.
  • The objective of the conference is to mull over the numerous critical issues regarding global environmental change and come up with effectual solutions.
  • Environmental protection is not in conflict with development. Sustainable development is the key to striking a balance between environment and development.
  • The focus of the conference will be on ‘Forest and biodiversity’, ‘Clean and renewable energy’, ‘Climate change’ and ‘Municipal solid waste’. Four technical sessions, on each of the issues, will be held over the 2-day conference.

Setting up of NGT

  • Till 1980, not much contribution was made by the courts in preserving the environment. One of the earliest cases which came to the Supreme Court of India was Municipal Council, Ratlam, vs Vardhichand, 1980. Thereafter, series of cases were filed before the Supreme Court and there was a dynamic change in the whole approach of the courts in matters concerning environment.
  • During the Rio de Janeiro summit of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in June 1992, India vowed the participating states to provide judicial and administrative remedies for the victims of the pollutants and other environmental damage.

Why did India set up NGT?

  • There lie many reasons behind the setting up of this tribunal. After India’s move with Carbon credits, such tribunal may play a vital role in ensuring the control of emissions and maintaining the desired levels.
  • This is the first body of its kind that is required by its parent statute to apply the “polluter pays” principle and the principle of sustainable development.
  • This court can rightly be called ‘special’ because India is the third country following Australia and New Zealand to have such a system.
  • India has now become the third country in the world to start a National Green Tribunal (NGT) which is a judicial body exclusively meant to judge environmental cases after Australia and New Zealand.
  • The National Green Tribunal has been established under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
  • The Tribunal is mandated to make and Endeavour for disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of filing of the same.

Structure of National Green Tribunal

  • Going by the enactment of the national green tribunal act, New Delhi has been chosen as the principal bench of the NGT, with regional benches in Pune (Western Zone Bench), Bhopal (Central Zone Bench), Chennai (Southern Bench) and Kolkata (Eastern Bench).
  • Each Bench has a specified geographical jurisdiction covering several States in a region. There is also a mechanism for circuit benches.

Powers of National Green Tribunal

The NGT has a power to hear all civil matters which are related to environment and questions regarding the enforcement and implementation of laws which fall under the seven categories of laws namely (in order of their enactment)

  1. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974;
  2. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977;
  3. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980;
  4. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;
  5. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986;
  6. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991;
  7. The Biological Diversity Act, 2002
  • The NGT has been given the power to regulate the procedure by itself. It does not follow the principles of civil procedure code instead it follows principles of natural justice.
  • The NGT also at the time of giving orders shall apply the principals of sustainable development and also the principal that the one who pollutes shall pay.
  • It will have the same power as of the civil court in deciding the matter falling within these seven legal acts.
  • Even the NGT will not be bound by the rules of evidence as mentioned in the Indian evidence act.
  • Anything which is not covered under these seven acts the NGT is not competent to admit the suit for that matter. The major drawback of this limitation is that a person cannot approach the NGT for every environmental issue.

What are the advantages of having a tribunal like NGT?

  • The major benefit with NGT is that it has a strong order enforcing mechanism. If the orders of NGT are not complied with than it has the power to impose both punishment as well as fine.
  • The punishment is up to three years and the penalty is up to ten crore and for firms in can extend up to twenty five crores. Also the director or manager of the firm can be punished or penalized if it is found by the tribunal that the offence has been committed on the orders or with the consent of such officer of the firm.
  • The act also provides various kinds of reliefs to the persons who are affected by the degradation of environment as the inhabitant of that particular area.  Any person who has sustained the injury can file a suit in the National Green Tribunal.
  • The government or the government agencies related to environment can file a suit in place of that person like the central or the state government or the central pollution control board or state pollution control board.
  • The act also provides for fast delivery of justice and the act provides that all possible efforts will be made to dispose of the case within six months from the date of filing the suit.
  • The period for filing a suit with NGT is up to 5 years from the date on which the cause for compensation arose. However if the tribunal has sufficient grounds for believing that the person has reasonable cause that prevented him from filing a suit in NGT than it can extend the period for a maximum of sixty days.
  • If a person is not satisfied with the orders of the tribunal he can seek the review of the decision of NGT under rule 22 of the NGT rule. And even then if he is not satisfied with the decision of the tribunal he can file an appeal to the Supreme Court of India. But the appeal has to be filed within ninety days of the orders passed by NGT.

Criticism of National Green Tribunal

Judicial independence

  • It lacks judicial independence from the government. The rules of the NGT act allowed the bureaucrats to be appointed to the tribunal while holding their post in the government.
  • This is problematic in the sense that a government official will never rule against the government because he is also a part of government and faces various kinds of pressure to not to rule against the central government.

Issue of funding

  • The concept of Tribunals is in itself problematic as they are funded by the parent ministry and hence it exercises control over the tribunal and its decisions.

Need of Environmental experts

  • The need for experts in the tribunal is also problematic concept because the NGT has to decide the question of law and does not have to do fact finding. The expert knowledge is not needed in granting compensation or awarding punishment. For this, there needs to be a knowledge of law.

Lack of resources

  • The tribunal also faces a lack of resources for its proper functioning. The NGT was operating from a guest house earlier. Also the members of the tribunal were not given houses and were living in government guest house.
  • The funds were decreased further without taking into consideration the fact that NGT is already suffering from lack of adequate funding.

No proper establishment

  • The law commission report on the environmental courts suggested that one such court should be established in every state. But the NGT has only 5 benches.
  • This has created problem for common citizens asking for justice as it is difficult to approach a court which is in different state and far from their home.
  • The establishment of NGT also took away the right of civil courts to admit cases regarding environmental issues. So it is now compulsory to file the case before the NGT in these cases.
  • Even a PIL cannot be filed in the High Court of the state for environmental issues as all environmental litigation shall be dealt only by the five benches of NGT. There is a need for environmental tribunal on district bases but present system is not even providing it on state basis.

Way ahead

  • India is one of the very few nations in the world who give immense amount of importance to environmental conservation. There are already a number of legislations that deal with environment and forest conservation and protection. The Green Tribunal adds another feather to India’s cap.
  • There have been other such bodies like the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) and National Environmental Training Association (NETA) which have failed to serve the purpose they were constituted for but it will be unfair to compare them to the Green Tribunal. Failures in the past must not deter us from moving forward to new beginnings.
  • For a country that has faced one of the world’s most horrifying industrial disasters, setting up a body like the Green Tribunal obviously seems to be an excellent idea. Although the Act is still facing a lot of criticism, yet its basic framework appears reassuring and it is hard to say that it is not the step in the right direction.
  • It would bring about the much needed reform in the way the courts deal with environmental issues and also the way people perceive environmental damage.
  • With the introduction of a legal system that supports and encourages environmental justice, the green tribunal shall make India a role model for its neighbouring nations of South-East Asia.

India may lose Farzad B gas field bid: (The Hindu)

Context

  • Iran miffed as India not ‘flexible’ on pricing; quality of gas a concern, says petroleum ministry official

What is Farzad B gas field?

  • The Farzad B gas field is an Iranian natural gas field that Indian companies discovered the in 2008
  • It is located in Persian Gulf within territories of Iran and produces natural gas and condensates.
  • Indian government is trying to negotiate a deal to get rights to dig oil.

Why is it important for India?

  • India offered $11bn to develop Iran’s Farzad B gas field.
  • The total in place reserves of the Farzad B gas field are around 21.7 trillion cubic feet of which around 60 percent is recoverable
  • India is the world’s fourth-largest LNG buyer due to its spur use of cleaner-burning fuels
  • Even as Iranian government officials have said that India is close to losing its bid for the Farzad B gas field, Indian officials in the Petroleum Ministry downplayed the situation, saying it is all part of the negotiation process.

What is the present status of the negotiations?

  • Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum has started preliminary talks with Russians to develop Farzad B but negotiations also continue with the Indian government
  • Majlis Energy Commission stated that there is no clause which mentions that the contract would ultimately be awarded to India

India- Iran Bilateral Relations

  • India has worked hard to maintain its ties with Iran when there were international sanctions on Iran from all sides. Bilateral trade with Iran suffered due to banking and insurance censures
  • In 2015, India liberalized its visa policy for Iran and struck it off the prior referral category (PRC) of countries.
  • Iran can be the key supporter of India in the wake of the growing influence of terror groups such as the Islamic State.
  • India lined up USD 20 billion as investment in oil & gas, petrochemical and fertilizer projects in Iran.
  • In May 2016, PM Modi visited to Iran, where the historic Chabahar port agreement was signed which is a contract for the development and operation of the port for 10 years of 2 terminals and 5 berths.
  • There was a MoU on provision of services by Indian Railways, including financing $1.6 billion, for Chabahar-Zahedan railway line.
  • India will invest in setting up industries from aluminum to urea plants in Chabahar.

GS-3

Science and Tech


Novel inhibitor to combat kala-azar identified: (The Hindu)

Context

  • Scientists have been able to identify a FDA-approved molecule that shows enhanced anti-kala-azar activity by combining structure-based drug designing methodology

What is kala-azar?

  • Visceral leishmaniasis (VL) as kala-azar is the most severe form of leishmaniasis and, without proper diagnosis and treatment, is associated with high fatality.
  • This disease is the second-largest parasitic killer in the world responsible for an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 infections each year worldwide
  • One active inhibitor molecule showed the highest stability in binding to the active sites of the target enzyme which helps in the formation of glycoprotein, beta-Galf.
  • After binding to the UGM, the molecule inhibits the enzyme activity thereby reducing the virulence, parasite survival and transmission of disease.

What is the treatment available for Kala-azar?

  • Treatment for kala-azar is limited due to high toxicity to human cells, low efficacy of the drug, high cost and drug resistance making the development of novel anti-kala-azar drugs a priority.
  • How deep-rooted is the disease in India?
  • India has around 3,000 people afflicted with kala-azar, accounting for 50% of the global burden. It is endemic in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and eastern Uttar Pradesh.

What is Beta-Galf?

  • Beta-Galf is a major cell surface component of Leishmania parasite and is responsible for the virulence of the pathogens and plays an essential role in parasite survival and transmission of disease.
  • Beta-Galf is also found in Mycobacterium tuberculosis that causes TB and Trypanosoma cruzi parasite that causes sleeping sickness but is absent in humans.
  • Like beta-Galf, the UGM enzyme is also absent in humans but is critical for the biosynthesis of beta-Galf thereby making the UGM enzyme an attractive drug target.

What was the observation?

  • One of the three chosen inhibitors was evaluated in vitro for anti- Leishmania activity and found to significantly inhibit the growth of Leishmania donovani.
  • Different doses of the compound were tested and the minimum inhibitory concentration or IC50 value (the lowest concentration of the compound required to inhibit the visible growth of a pathogen) was found to be 50 microgram per litre.

 

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