Justice Madan Lokur, head of the e-Committee, says: “the vision and goal is to better manage case load, reduce pendency and streamline the disposal of cases through technology such as e-filing, e-summons, e-payment, video conferencing. Mobile phone technology is also being used extensively to enable litigants to access information about their cases.’’
The e-Courts, is a project launched in 2010 with the second phase in 2015 seeking to use technology to streamline access to justice and ensure better case management by courts. It is due for completion in March 2019. But data on the e-Courts website reveals that two of the nation’s oldest chartered high courts, Bombay and Calcutta, both over 150 years old, have spend less than 50 percent of the funds released by an e-Courts committee. Bombay HC is the only HC which received over Rs 100 crore. It received Rs 116 crore and has spent only 40 percent by September 30, 2018. The Guahati HC at Nagaland spent 95 per cent of its less than Rs 5 crore funds, placing it at the top spot.
The funds are meant largely to upgrade the computer hardware and services. Calcutta HC, also established in May 1862 spent less than 34 per cent of its Rs 32 crore funds, But Madras HC, the third chartered HC established in June 1862, spent 90 percent of its Rs 60 crores while Delhi HC spent 46 percent of Rs 20 crore and Allahabad HC spent 86 percent of the Rs 73 crore it got. Madhya Pradesh has also embraced e-Courts more rapidly, spending Rs 51 crore of Rs 55 it received, or 90 percent while Tripura spent 82 percent of the Rs 9 crore it received.
“The eCourts Project was to be completed by 31.3.2019. It is completed ahead of time as far as the e-Committee is concerned,’’ said Justice Lokur. As far as e-filing of cases, he said on Wednesday to TOI, “e-filing facility has been made available by e-Committee and is fully operational, with security audit.’’ Explaining why it hasn’t taken off he said, “Lawyers, litigants and judges have only to use the facility so that courts can become paperless.’’
Justice Lokur calls for more “proactive’’ efforts from High Courts to fully implement the project and to get e-filing off the ground too across the nation.. “The High Courts have been already given all technological and financial support for case and court management. The Courts can now better manage the cases and pendency through the new NJDG which has elastic search facility. High Courts have to do Process Re-engineering and take full advantage of the computerisation of courts by being proactive,’’ said Justice Lokur at present the seniormost Judge in the apex court after the Chief Justice of India said, in an exclusive chat with TOI.
The e-filing facility is available and operational and with security audit in Delhi high court for several types of disputes. A young advocate Nivedita Nair who practices in Delhi said that it is compulsory in Delhi HC to file commercial suits and certain matters related to arbitration only through the e-filing portal, making the process paperless. “It is quite easy to e-file these suits by submitting a Compact Disc (CD) of scanned copy of the suit for uploading, but it can be done only at specified counters on the HC premises and only by registered lawyers. But hard copies of the suit stil has to be served on the opposite side, thus not entirely saving on paper.’’
In the Bombay HC, say that barring briefly in August 2013 when it was launched lawyers do not recall using e-filing facility. It was only for company disputes even then. The registry in Bombay HC has to be given scanned documents of certain types of commercial disputes on a pen drive along with hard copies of the suits being filed said advocates Abhijeet Desai and Hitesh Jain. Jain said, “people are still to come to terms with the switch to paperless filing, also the infrastructure and eco-system must be available and robust.’’
The project seeks to place all details of a case, documents and orders online and to allow e-payment of court fees. A litigant sitting in Mumbai can at a click find out what stage of trial or hearing his or her case may be in say before a district court in Kolhapur or Tripura, including the schedule of dates and processes. Feeding in data in the second phase of the project, of cases filed, disposed or pending before all courts in the subordinate judiciary including magistrates, family courts, industrial courts, small causes courts, taluka and district courts now allows ordinary litigants from talukas to cities, alike, to even access details of their cases on the go, on data enabled cell phones. It has the potential of empowering litigants and enables them as well as courts to monitor the case progress. Data bifurcated into age of pendency will allow courts to devise ways to ensure cases pending for over a decade or two get to come under the sweep of a better case management system.
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