Our e-courts project needs a big rehaul to assure us transparency

Source: The post is based on thearticle “Our e-courts project needs a big rehaul to assure us transparency”published in Mint on 14thMarch 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 –Indian Polity

Relevance: concerns with e-court project

News: The Union budget for 2022-23 allocated₹7,000 crore for the third phase of the e-courts project. The project is administered by the e-committee of India’s Supreme Court in partnership with the ministry of law and justice.

About the E-court Project and E-committee

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The project has helped with easier availability of judgments and case progression updates online on the e-courts website. However, the achievements are not significant when compared to problems being faced by the project.

What are the concerns with the project?

Delay in Investments: A parliamentary standing committee in December 2022 acknowledged that no money was spent on the project in 2022-23. It was due to a failure in getting necessary approvals by the department of justice and the e-committee.

Functioning of the e-committee: There is a lack of transparency in the functioning of the e-committee ofthe Supreme Court because it does not release any minutes of its meetings. It is also not clear how the e-committee selects various outsiders for its expert panels.

Audit: Neither the e-committee nor the e-courts project has ever been audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Even the parliamentary panels have not reviewed the performance of the project.

Lack of transparency:An attempt was made by the author to get the information of the final proposal for the project’s Phase IIIthrough RTI. However, the Public Information Officer of the Supreme Court refused to share the proposal. The reason given was that the final proposal is still under consideration of the government.

It raises questions on the logic on which the ₹7,000 crore outlay provided by the government.

Centralization of the project: The Supreme Court has ruled that high courts are in charge of the administration of the district judiciary in Indian states. However, when it comes to the e-courts project, the e-committee implemented Phase I centrally.

In the second phase, the high courts were put in charge of procurement and implementation, but the e-committee was still responsible for planning and setting standards.

Even though the SC has attempted to democratize the committee’s composition by staffing it with high court judges, it still functions in the centralized manner.

What can be done going ahead?

Decentralization: Decentralization can improve the efficiency of the e-courts project.It can facilitate a greater technological integration with the e-systems of state governments.It will also encourage competition between states to modernize their own judiciary.

New Structure: The Government by law can also create a new legal structure for India’s e-courts project.

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