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Justice at the doorstep

India’s first mobile court begins with high expectations and, surprisingly, meets them as well.

By Saumya Bhattacharya | Print Edition: Sept 9, 2007

August 6, 2007

Indana village, Punhana block, Mewat, Haryana

"Saab, gaon mein jail khol do,” (Sir, please open a jail in our village) may seem like a strange request to anyone. Well, for the villagers residing in the Punhana block in Mewat district, that is their most pertinent need. And that is exactly the request they placed before visiting government officials sometime ago. What explains the villagers’ strange request? It is simply because the area, as a senior government official points out, is “known for its crime rate.

The number of cases as well as undertrials is very high.” The total number of cases in the Punhana block is 2,242, and a majority of them (1,550) are criminal cases. The villagers’ demand for a jail, therefore, seems justified.

However, what the villagers probably had not bargained for is the court driving up to them. That is exactly what happened on August 6. Additional Civil Judgecum-Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate, Sundeep Singh, came to Indana village with this entire court paraphernalia to dispense justice.

This is India’s first “mobile court in session”. History was being made here with a new form of judicial “activism”.

So BT’s destination for the first Monday of August was Indana village in the Punhana block in the Mewat district of Haryana, 125 km from Delhi.

Justice goes hi-tech
Court paraphernalia inside the mobile court
Located along the rugged Sohna-Hodal Road, Indana is one of a string of Muslim-dominated villages in the region. It is 9 a.m. by the time we reach. By no account can it be called the perfect setting for “history in making”.

The sun is already at its merciless best, the police chowki compound—the venue— is choc-a-bloc with inquisitive onlookers, and lawyers arranging for tables and chairs. Typewriters and chairs are getting transported on bicycles, even as people wait around for the court ‘to arrive’.

The mobile court—a speciallydesigned silver and blue air-conditioned Tata bus—arrives 45 minutes late at 10:45 a.m. on its way from Firozepur Jhirka sub-court. “We got stuck in a one-and-a-half hour long traffic jam at Badkali-Punhana road,” says Judge Singh by way of explanation—though he does not find any sympathisers. “Finally, he gets a taste of what we have been going through for years,” said Ajmu, a villager, with relish.

Sundeep Singh, the chosen one
Additional Civil Judge-cum-SDJM Sundeep Singh
However, herein rests the very basis for having the first mobile court in this region. Says the Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Vijender Jain: “The idea was conceived two years ago at a judicial conference in Delhi, where the Prime Minister spoke about the Constitutional Right to Justice to the poor. We initiated the concept of mobile court with the Haryana government with focus on connectivity and faster justice delivery system.”

The mobile court is unique in the sense that it works as a regular court; India already has mobile lok adalats and traffic chalan courts. Staffed like a regular court, it transacts both civil and criminal cases through a full-fledged trial.

Within moments of its arrival, the court becomes the centre of attraction with many a hopeful eye on it. Not sure whether they will have to go inside the air-conditioned bus for hearing, villagers get into a huddle and try to figure out the procedure. They are hugely disappointed when told that the hearing will take place in the corner room of the police chowki.

“It’s just the court and its processes that we are carrying,” offers mobile court driver Mohammad Issa Khan to the villagers. The swank bus is carrying two computers, two chests of drawers filled with files and papers related to the cases and a dozen odd chairs. It has been partitioned to make place for the retiring room for the judge.

A list by now has been put up outside the small—and that’s an over-statement—room where hearing would take place. This room is dark, and one has to strain one’s eyes to figure out that it can barely seat 4-5 people. (Photography is not allowed in the ‘court room’, hence, Judge Singh had to be snapped as he walked from the mobile court to the court room.)

For the villagers, the mobile court starts on an auspicious note. The accused in the first case Hakmu of village Birwara is acquitted of cow slaughter charges. “I have been running around for three years— thank God, it’s over now. Mobile court is God-sent,” he says. However, not everyone is having a good time. The lawyers are annoyed that there’s no infrastructure in place for them. “We are sitting under the trees and have brought our own tables and chairs. What if it rains on the day the court is in progress? There are no stamp vendors or even a photographer,” says Mohammad.

As the bus returns to Firozepur Jhirka at around 4 p.m., the court has taken up a total of 60 cases while a total of four cases have been disposed off. There are some satisfied faces on Day 1 of the mobile court. Some villagers celebrate the phenomenon of mobile court with a fireworks display later in the evening.

By the time the mobile court completes a week’s run, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has already received a request from the Punjab Chief Minister to do a feasibility study for mobile courts in Punjab as well. A judicious move, one could say.

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