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Broken toilets, no security checks and waiting rooms - the sorry state of district courts

Think tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy interviewed 6,650 litigants and analysed gaps in facilities by looking into physical and digital aspects of infrastructure of 665 district court complexes

Sonal Khetarpal        Last Updated: August 14, 2019  | 22:10 IST
Broken toilets, no security checks and waiting rooms - the sorry state of district courts

A report by think tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy highlighted sorry state of affairs in district courts. The report - Building Better Courts (Surveying the Infrastructure of India's District Courts - claimed that there is a shortage of courtrooms and waiting rooms in district courts. They lack baggage-scanning facility, washrooms are dirty and taps are not fully functional.

Vidhi Centre interviewed 6,650 litigants and analysed gaps in facilities by looking into physical and digital aspects of infrastructure of 665 district court complexes. The survey intended to understand the user experience on parameters such as accessibility by public transport, ease of navigation within the court complex, waiting areas, hygiene, security and amenities, and appalling statistics it found.

Reshma Sekhar, Research Fellow of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and co-author of the report, explained the rationale for the extensive study. She said that the public discourse around judicial reforms revolved around case pendency, judicial vacancies while the state of physical infrastructure of courts are more often ignored. "Even when issues regarding court infrastructure are spoken about, it is mostly in the quantitative, that is, the number of court halls and court complexes and not the quality of them."

It is common knowledge that safety and security of judges, administrative staff, lawyers, litigants, witnesses, prisoners and under trials should be of utmost importance but only 11 per cent of the court complexes had a working baggage scanning facility, while 71 per cent had fire extinguishers and 48 per cent had emergency exit signs.

The report found that only 81% or 539 court complexes are accessible via public transport, whereas 80 per cent or 532 of the court complexes have designated parking areas. In fact, even within the court, navigating is not simple. Litigants were rarely able to find their way themselves, and mostly asked lawyers for directions. Only 20 per cent district courts had guide maps and 45 per cent had helpdesks. According to the National Court Management Systems (NCMS), court complexes should be located in areas that are accessible by public transport, and should have adequate parking facilities.

The presence of adequate, clean and well-equipped washrooms are essential for any public space. However, only 88 per cent or 585 court complexes had washrooms, out of which 40 per cent (266 out of 665 court complexes) are fully functional. Although washrooms should be present on each floor, only 53 per cent (354 out of 665 court complexes) met this requirement.

States such as Goa, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Mizoram had the least number of court complexes with functional washrooms. 100 district court complexes across the country don't even have a single washroom for women.

The NCMS report says every district court complex should have a designated waiting area for litigants and public. Despite being a basic requirement, only 54 per cent or 361 district court complexes had designated waiting areas. Bihar and Rajasthan had the least number of court complexes with designated waiting areas.

As per the universal design principles, court complexes should be accessible. However, only 27 per cent court complexes were accessible through ramps and/ or lifts, whereas only 11 per cent had designated washrooms for persons with disabilities, and only 2 per cent had built-in visual aid features.

Meanwhile, only 39 per cent of states had full service court complexes - the least-provided facilities included bank branch (65 per cent), post office (63 per cent), and first-aid care (59 per cent), while services such as photocopier (100 per cent), typists (98 per cent) and stamp vendors (97 per cent) were mostly available in all court rooms.

From the states, Delhi and Kerala had the most number of fully functional court rooms at 90 per cent and 84 per cent, respectively. The trailing states were Meghalaya at 75 per cent, and Haryana and Himachal Pradesh at 70 per cent. Bihar and Manipur at 26 per cent and 29 per cent fared worst.

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