Indian judiciary could be the turning point for domestic growth
If Justice Bharuka's five year, Rs 824-crore, computerization plan for the
Indian judiciary takes off, the face of Indian judiciary could transform. All
courts including lower courts in the districts will have computers and internet
access, judges will be seen carrying laptops wherever they go, trials being
conducted on video-conferencing, old records getting archived at the click of
the button, biometric tools being used for witness testimony and crime
Sure, this project will trigger off lots of beneficial things for the
industry. For the Indian IT industry there should be reasons beyond this to
cheer about. Besides the great reform it will bring into the Indian judicial
infrastructure, there are going to be quite a few positive side-effects too.
Today, the Indian IT industry sees the judiciary and, therefore, the police as
very unfriendly to ICT and ICT-related issues that reach these courts. These
could be petty crimes related to software piracy, or IP infringements, or
IT-based economic frauds, or even those cases where IT has been a tool in crimes
like kidnapping, murder, or harassment. The industry feels that due to very poor
IT awareness of the Indian judiciary, they have very low sensitivity, and
sympathy for IT related cases. And many a times the judgment is not in their
favor. But if members of judiciary themselves become users of IT, their outlook
towards IT related legal cases will change.
The second positive side-effect will be on ecommerce. Today, e-commerce,
on-line trading and business, EDI and so on-whether B2B or B2C-is not
gathering momentum also because the basic laws (IT Act) are not in effect. Once
judiciary becomes an active user, there is bound to be an impact on how policies
and laws, with respect to e-commerce, including consumer protection laws, are
framed, interpreted and implemented. E-commerce will be a direct beneficiary of
Indian judiciary's computerization.
The third positive side-effect will be that with the judiciary becoming an
active adopter of IT, the police will come under pressure to bring in IT too.
Today, usage of IT in police work-crime prevention, tracking, and
investigation-is also very poor. One reason for that is that the Indian
judiciary is still not open to the use of IT in the entire legal process. So, as
the judiciary adopts IT, the vast police force will also adopt IT. This means
for the industry, police will emerge as another big hot vertical.
While the final report was not available for review, there are a few
questions that are coming up in the minds of the industry pundits. The plan
includes designing an IT network that will link all the courts to one another,
applications that will run on it, and the manpower required. The first and
foremost question that comes to mind originates from the great fact that the
huge report, which could decide the future of Indian judiciary, was done in a
record time of six months. Hats off to Justice Lahoti and Justice Bharuka and
the team, but one hopes that all the expertise, long term vision, and the due
diligence required, has gone into the preparation of the final report.
The second question is about the identification of a champion for the
project. Nobody in India believes in only plans-especially when they are made
in the government. After all, the government of India is going to pay for this
project. We have seen lots of plans in the past. The question is who will drive
this after Justice Lahoti and Justice Bharuka retire.
However, the biggest question is, how much is this ICT implementation plan
for the Indian judiciary in sync with the IT Act that is in the pipeline? Unless
and until they are very strongly coupled with each other, there might be
problems. For instance, the definition of digital signature in the Indian IT Act
should be the same as that perceived by the project managers of the Indian
judiciary computerization. And the technology most apt to meet that definition
should be implemented. Otherwise, there would be problems of mismatch between
this big IT infrastructure that is being created and the Indian IT Act.
(The author is editor of Dataquest)