Millennium Post

Delhi advocates battle for small changes

For the past one week advocates of Delhi’s district courts are on strike. They are battling for the passage of Delhi High Court (Amendment) Act in Parliament during its winter session. They are going to demonstrate at the Parliament House and disrupt traffic movement in the national capital if the Bill is not passed immediately. Spokesman of the agitating advocates, Vinod Sharma, President of Saket Bar Association, told IPA that there was no genuine reason to further delay the legislation, which is intended to help the Delhi High Court to unburden itself and help people from the national capital attain early verdicts in their civil cases.

These demonstrations seek to press for a very small reform in our legal system. If the proposed Bill is passed, the district courts in Delhi will become entitled to hear the civil suits involving amounts up to Rs 2 crore. At present the limit is Rs 20 lakh. A civil suit involving more than Rs 20 lakh is heard in the Delhi High Court. The amount was fixed long ago. However, the Delhi High Court itself felt the need to raise the limit and its full bench recommended the passage of a legislation that would raise the limit up to Rs 2 crore for civil law cases to be heard in district courts.

The Central government moved in that direction and it introduced a Bill in the Rajya Sabha for that purpose. The Bill named Delhi High Court (Amendment) Bill, was referred to the Standing Committee of Parliament after its introduction last February. The Standing Committee gave its green signal for the passage of the Bill and sent it back to the Parliament on 28th of November last. It raised the legal fraternity’s hope that the Bill would be passed in the current winter session. However, due to some mysterious reasons, the Bill did not find its place in the agenda of the current winter session.

Such a non-inclusion is the reason behind the agitation of advocates associated with the Bar Associations of the all six district courts in Delhi and there is a long drawn agitation on a very minor issue. The Narendra Modi-led government was voted into power with hopes of great change in the political and parliamentary process. But the present regime has not fulfilled the aspirations of its people. In fact, the system is failing on almost all fronts to meet even the minimum needs. The Anna movement was just an expression of the anger of people against the system. They wanted real change and Narendra Modi capitalised on their resentment to achieve a majority for his party in the Lok Sabha, which was almost unthinkable for many people before the results were declared.

We need changes in almost all aspects of the governance. Change in the legal system is one such aspect and perhaps it is the most important field, where reform is required on an urgent basis. Without reforming this system, we cannot expect improvement in governance. We are bound to lose the fight against corruption and criminalisation, if we continue with the present legal system, which is burdened with crores of pending cases. We are governed by the rule of law; the present legal system has emerged as the main hindrance against the laws ruling the land. Breaking laws has become the rule and adhering to then has become the exception. Corruption breeds corruption and lawlessness breeds lawlessness. This vicious circle can be broken only through the government’s unwavering political will.

But how strong is the will of our political class, in general, and present government in particular? Their weakness can be seen in the present agitation by advocates from Delhi’s district courts, who are afraid that despite the recommendation of Delhi High Court and approval of the Standing Committee of Parliament, the present government may not go forward for the proposed amendment in Delhi High Court Act. This kind of suspicion is a bad commentary on the functioning of Modi’s government, which claims to act fast. After the approval of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, the government should have moved the Bill and passed it without any delay, paving way for the amendment of the Act, which would  facilitate the district courts in Delhi to take up the civil cases involving amounts up to Rs 2 crore.

This legislation is not going to solve the menace which is infecting our legal system. It is a small step, but the government is not showing any enthusiasm for it. In fact the present system has created many vested interests. It is evident that these interests do not want to change it, because it prospers on the status quo. With new legislation, all civil cases involving amount up to Rs 2 crore would get transferred in Delhi District Courts from Delhi High Courts and High Court advocates may lose some of their clients. Naturally, they may have been lobbying with the government to stall the amendment.

When Delhi High Court was hearing this case of raising the limit, High Court advocates resisted. But change cannot be stalled by the individual concerns and it has to take into account the overall interests of society. The proposed amendment is in the interests of the Delhi High Courts as well as the general public, who get involved in the civil suits. The proposed amendment will unburden the Delhi High Court to some extent and it can expedite other pending cases quickly. People involved in such cases would have options to file or to be heard in the six district courts and expect early verdict with less loss of time and money.

Not only the Delhi High Court, but all High Courts around the country should be unburdened by similar amendments. But, the government seems to be pulling back its legs in the proposed Delhi High Court (Amendment) Bill, which will not behove well for Narendra Modi, who has earned a reputation to make decisions quickly in people interests.

The agitation by advocates in Delhi is further causing discomforts for the people and work in the district courts have come to a standstill. It is not easy to fight the vested interests, who find solace in the status quo. If a minor reform is proving to be so difficult for Narendra Modi government, how can people expect an overall change of reforms in our legal system to serve the people better? It is a test case for our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who has aroused the expectations of people that he can deliver them better days (“achchhe din”).
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