21.9 million disabled in India, 2.13 % of the total population

Enabling the 21.9 million disabled persons in India

With India signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, laws pertaining to the disabled are likely to undergo a dramatic change. V. Kumara Swamy reports

A fortnight ago, NGO activist Rajiv Ranjan was denied permission to board a flight from Chennai to New Delhi because he was a cerebral palsy patient. Later, the directorate general of civil aviation pulled up the guilty airline. Had there been more awareness about the rights of disabled people and had clear guidelines been issued, the incident could have been avoided, sparing Ranjan needless humiliation.

Shikar Narang also underwent similar humiliation. A dyslexic student, he scored 75 per cent marks in Class XII, and wished to join the University of Delhi (DU) under its three per cent disability quota. But he was denied admission.

The university wasn’t aware that dyslexia came under the purview of the Persons with Disability Act, 1995. Narang challenged the university through a rights group. Finally, Delhi High Court ordered DU to treat dyslexia as a disability.

There are many disabled citizens who face such hurdles not only because of a lack of comprehensive definition of disability in the law, but also because of a lack of understanding of policy-makers about the problems of the disabled and insensitivity towards their rights as individuals.

And this is despite the fact that they constitute 2.13 per cent of the total population. According to the 2001 census, there are 21.9 million persons with disabilities in India. Yet, only 34 per cent of the disabled are employed.

But now there is good news around the corner. With India signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on March 31 this year, and signalling that it will ratify it soon, laws in India are likely to undergo a dramatic change.

The convention describes discrimination on the basis of disability as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction on the basis of disability which has the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal basis with others, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. It includes all forms of discrimination, including denial of reasonable accommodation.”

“The convention is a blueprint to end discrimination and exclusion of the physically and mentally disabled in education, jobs and everyday life,” says Ratnabali Ray, founder of Anjali, a Calcutta-based non governmental organisation that works for the mentally disabled.

So those deprived to date have reason to rejoice. “All of us in the disability sector are very happy that India has signed the convention. It means that in addition to our existing laws, the Indian government will now have to adhere to clear-cut international standards and expectations and will also be subject to greater scrutiny,” says Javed Abidi, executive director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), Delhi. “At present, gross discrimination takes place all the time, especially in the private sector. After the convention is adopted and its various tenets become firmly applicable, that would no longer be possible.”

Some of the measures that India would have to take include anti-discrimination legislation, eliminating laws and practices that discriminate against persons with disabilities, and considering persons with disabilities when adopting new policies and programmes. Other measures include making services, goods and facilities accessible to persons with disabilities.

Rukmini Sen, a lecturer at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Calcutta, highlights another pertinent point. “The most important change that we need is a new definition of disability. The manner in which disability is defined in the Persons with Disability Act, 1995, is a medical understanding of disability. The UN Convention gives a comprehensive combination of medical, social and human rights perspective to disability,” she says.

Some other changes, which have been demanded for long by activists working in the field, are also expected. “The signing of this law means that we have to do away with the Mental Health Act which segregates the feeble-minded and mentally ill for other people’s safety, purity, and to keep society sanitised. That is a colonial concept,” says Ray.

The government would also have to change its local by-laws and make it compulsory for buildings to be easily accessible to the disabled. “Going by the convention, building by-laws of all the states have to change. Transportation also needs to be changed keeping disability in mind,” says Sen.

However, in spite of India having ratified the treaty, it will come into force only after 20 signatories ratify it. Currently, Jamaica is the only country to ratify it. “The secretariat of the convention expects the 20 ratifications by the year’s end,” says Edoardo Bellando of the UN department of public information, New York.

Once the convention comes into force, a committee on the rights of persons with disabilities will monitor its implementation. Countries that ratify the convention will need to report regularly on their progress to the committee.

However, people in the field are divided over India opting out of the optional protocol which would have meant that anybody in the country could have appealed to the UN body under the convention, in case the country was not abiding by the rules. Sen says that by not signing the optional protocol, “accountability in a way has been squandered”.

Ray, however, disagrees. “I feel that it is the right thing to do. India is self-reliant. It can and will take care of addressing violations through its national instruments. We certainly do not want foreign agencies to interfere,” she says.

The onus is now on the Indian government to implement the laws. But the disability organisations will also have to ensure that the government keeps the pledge it makes by ratifying the convention, stresses Bellando.

The ministry for social justice and empowerment has set the ball rolling. “We have approached the Law Commission to suggest changes to various laws to adhere to the convention and once they come out with a report, we will proceed accordingly on this matter and place the amendments before Parliament,” says Ashish Kumar, deputy director general, ministry of social justice and empowerment.

According to the ministry, certain changes to the Persons with Disability Act have already been proposed and consultation seminars in various parts of the country are being held to fine-tune the changes.

“The sincerity of the government of India will be tested, and if we unite and fight for our legitimate rights, I am sure tomorrow will belong to us,” says Abidi.

The Telegraph , Calcutta, 4 July 2007

967 Cases of Atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat

Dalits in Gujarat eclipsed under Modi: Meira

Claiming that the Dalits were “eclipsed” under the present dispensation in Gujarat, Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Meira Kumar on Monday criticised the Narendra Modi-led government for the “atrocities” meted out against Dalits and other backward sections of the society.

“The present government in Gujarat has a poor track record in tackling crimes against the backward sections of the society,” Kumar said addressing the day-long ‘jan-mitra shibir’ (conference of party workers) organised by the scheduled caste cell of Congress.

She claimed that Dalits were “eclipsed” in Gujarat at present.

“In the year 2005, there were a total of 967 cases of atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat where many were murdered, raped, burnt and seriously injured,” Kumar told the gathering of party workers who had assembled from different parts of the state.

“This year in just six months, there were a total of 412 cases of atrocities registered against backward classes including Dalits,” she said adding the figures she was quoting were sourced from the Social Justice department of Gujarat.

“In many of these cases FIRs are yet to be registered,” Kumar added

Press Trust of India, Gandhinagar, July 3, 2006

54 % Indians back UN probe on Human rights abuses in India

Majority of Indians are likely to support an investigation by United Nations on human rights violations in india, a survey result released by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) of Philippines said Monday. 54 % Indians welcomed UN probe on Human rights abuses in their own country while only 29 % opposed to such an action.

Globally, support for “giving the UN the authority to go into countries in order to investigate violations of human rights” had on the average 64% in favor and 23% opposed. Most people in 13 countries are in favor of such UN investigations, led by an overwhelming 92% of the French, followed by Americans (75%), Peruvians (75%) and South Koreans (74%).

But Filipinos are 46% in favor and 46% opposed to such UN investigations. Filipinos show the highest opposition to this idea, followed by Israelis (31%).

France scored the highest with 92 percent of the respondents saying that they are privy to a UN-led human rights probe in their country.

South Korea (74%), Armenia (67%), Ukraine (66%) and Russia (64%) also gave their thumbs up to the UN rights investigation.

The survey also showed the majority of the people in Poland (58%), China (57%), and Thailand (52%) will permit the UN to investigate human rights abuses in their own countries.

The survey was done during the third and fourth quarters in the Philippines and was commissioned by the SWS, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the WorldPublicOpinion.org.

The study was conducted in 18 countries including China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Russia, France, Thailand, Ukraine, Poland, Iran, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Argentina, Peru, Israel, Armenia and the Palestinian Territories

The margin of error was +/- 3 percent.

The Philippines is considered a special case in the international human rights arena.

Philippine-based human rights group have been saying that over 800 cases of forced disappearances among the ranks of labor and left-wing activists took place after President Arroyo assumed office in 2001.

Complainants said that the Philippine military is behind the abductions.

Earlier this year, the UN sent Philip Halston to conduct an investigation into the cases of human rights abuses that took place during the term of Mrs. Arroyo.

The President also created a special commission headed by a retired Supreme Court justice to conduct its own probe into cases of alleged human rights abuses.

http://www.sws.org.ph/pr070702.htm

77 % believes that Indian Judiciary is corrupt : Global Corruption Report

The reputation of India’s judiciary, considered overbearing and democratically unaccountable by many, has taken a knock with the publication of a report by Transparency International (TI) called the “Global Corruption Report 2007”.

The report, based on a 2005 countrywide survey of “public perceptions and experiences of corruption in the lower judiciary,” conducted by the Centre for Media Studies, finds that a very high 77 percent of respondents believe the Indian judiciary is corrupt.

It says that ‘’bribes seem to be solicited as the price of getting things done”. The estimated amount paid in bribes in a 12-month period it found was around 580 million dollars. ‘’Money was paid to the officials in the following proportions: 61 percent to lawyers; 29 percent to court officials; 5 percent to middlemen.”

“This is a wake-up call not just for India’s legal system, but for society and the state itself”, says Upendra Baxi, a highly regarded Indian jurist, former vice-chancellor of Delhi University, and professor at the University of Warwick in Britain. “It confirms what we have known for years and casts a shadow on the integrity of the judiciary. It also calls for urgent, drastic remedial measures.”

“The report only covers the lower or subordinate judiciary and excludes the judges of the High Courts (of Indian states) and the (national) Supreme Court. There are credible reports that corruption has permeated the higher judiciary too,” Baxi told IPS.

In January 2002, S.P. Bharucha, then India’s chief justice, said that 20 percent of the higher judiciary might be corrupt. In recent years, several upper court judges have been accused of “irregularities”, for instance, in the preferential allotment of valuable land by state governments, and other favours.

The report of the Berlin-based TI should greatly embarrass India’s judiciary, which always takes a sanctimonious stand on corruption. This past March, two judges of the Supreme Court said: “Everywhere, we have corruption. Everybody wants to loot this country. The only solution for this menace is to hang some people (like you) on the lamppost so that it acts as a deterrentà.”

However, no case of judicial corruption has ever been put on trial in India. Under the Indian system, it is virtually impossible to charge or impeach a judge.

“In India, impeachment is not feasible because it requires a huge (two-thirds) majority in Parliament,” argues Colin Gonsalves, a public interest lawyer with the Human Rights Law Network told IPS. “India’s parliamentary elections have produced hung verdicts for years. And it is virtually impossible to muster the numbers necessary for impeaching a judge. In 1993, V. Ramaswamy, a Supreme Court judge, was found culpable by a court committee. But he was politically well-connected and could not be impeached.”

This “freedom” from prosecution and impeachment further compounds the credibility crisis of the judiciary, in particular, the higher judiciary, which in India is a self-appointing entity not answerable to the legislature or executive.

The higher courts of India, shielded from public scrutiny, have increasingly turned conservative. They have recently handed down judgments which abridge or abolish labour rights, dilute environmental regulations, promote Big Business interests, and uncritically support globalisation and privatisation.

Judicial corruption in India is attributable to a number of factors, including “delays in the disposal of cases, shortage of judges and complex procedures, all of which are exacerbated by a preponderance of new laws”, according to TI.

Says the TI report: “As of February 2006, 33,635 cases were pending in the Supreme Court; … 3,341,040 cases in the High Courts; à and 25, ,458 cases in the 13,204 subordinate courts. This vast backlog leads to long adjournments and prompts people to pay to speed up the process. In 1999, it was estimated: ‘At the current rate of disposal it would take another 350 years for disposal of the pending cases even if no other cases were added’.”

Another factor is the low ratio of judges per one million population. This is as low as 12 to 13 in India, compared to 107 in the U.S., 75 in Canada and 51 in Britain. This high workload encourages delays and adjournments on frivolous grounds. “The judicial system, including judges and lawyers, has developed a vested interest in delays as well as corruption; it promotes a collusive relationship between the different players”, says Baxi. “This works against the public interest and the citizen’s rights. But even more important is the assault on rights that has occurred under the globalising neoliberal turn made by India’s higher judiciary since the early 1990s.”

Baxi terms this the “Structural Adjustment of Judicial Activism”, after the now-discredited “Washington Consensus” package of “free-market” policies promoted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

He argues that the Supreme Court and many High Courts have redefined their roles: from defenders of human rights and Constitutional freedoms, and guardians of the public interest, to conscious promoters of neo-liberal globalisation, with unrestricted freedom for capital and shrunken rights for the ordinary public.

“The tragedy in India”, adds Gonsalves, “is that it’s hard to put checks on the judiciary even as it runs amok by appropriating executive powers and interfering with legislative procedures even though the Constitution explicitly bars the procedures’ judicial scrutiny.”

In recent years, the Indian courts have practised “micro-management” of functions which properly belong to the executive, including specifying which fuel should be used in public buses, how cities should be planned and run, whether or not certain books should be censored, and whether street food should be sold.

The executive and legislature resent and chafe at this. Indeed, a first-rate conflict is brewing between these arms of the state, and the courts. There is a move to demand judicial accountability through a National Judicial Council Bill, which would allow serious investigation of corruption and other misconduct on the part of judges.

However, the Bill remains mired in conflict. The judiciary wants the Council to be manned entirely by judges, to the exclusion of members of the government, and equally important, of civil society. The executive does not.

“There are no easy solutions to the problem of making judges accountable,” argues Baxi. “But some interim partial measures can be tried. One is to appoint judicial ombudsmen from two highly-regarded statutory bodies, the Election Commission and Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India. Nothing prevents the CAG from initiating an independent review of the performance of the judiciary. The CAG could produce highly credible and objective reports and help kickstart a process of promoting transparency and accountability.”

It is unclear if India’s executive and Parliament are willing to initiate such an exercise. But observers say that unless corrective steps are taken, the judiciary will continue to defy democratic accountability and intrude into areas outside its domain, even while corruption and denial of justice remain the order of the day.

Praful Bidwai, Legal System in the Dock, Thursday, 31 May 2007 , (IPS)

Indian’s migration history is 2500 years old

NRI saga goes back over 2,500 years

For most of the new NRI generation, the Indian migration started about 60 years or 100 years at the most. But this saga goes back over 2,500 years ago much before Biblical times to distant shores of Africa, South-East Asia and the Far East. Considering that they travelled by sailboats into uncharted seas in voyages that took months to the Far East, it remains a humongous achievement.

Most of the second NRI generation in the US and Britain traces its roots to their fathers who left their motherland after India became independent. Canada is an exception as sturdy Punjabi farmers settled there earlier around 1930s. NRIs in East and South Africa, Mauritius and the Caribbean go back to just over a century when their forefathers went abroad to work as labourers to build a railway in East Africa or work on sugar plantations.

While Sri Lanka and Myanmar are just over the horizon for Indian seafarers, negotiating tricky straits and storms to land in Java, Sumatra, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bali and the Philippines demonstrated their real test of skill and endurance over 2,500 years ago. Sailing west was relatively easy as the annual monsoon winds carried their sailboats from Kutch to the Gulf and then south to East Africa and a few months later, they returned as the winds changed into the opposite direction.

‘The diaspora of Indians in ancient times to the countries of South East Asia and the annals of those kingdoms by the Hindu colonists were quite unlike the later European ways of colonization,’ writes Utpal K. Banerjee in his new book ‘Hindu Joy of Life’, ‘Among the European powers were the English, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spaniards, all five of which acted with explicit support of home government and were accompanied by military forces to back them to forcibly impose supremacy over the people of other countries; mainly to exploit the resources of the colony and benefit their homeland.’

The Indians, on the contrary, enriched the native populations by introducing the art of writing, high degree of culture, improved methods of cultivation, improved handicrafts and introduced new industries, claims Banerjee. ‘Indians went out of their country without any sort of backing of any of the Indian states,’ he said. ‘Hindus left their motherland to settle abroad in colonies and not to make fortune and run back to motherland. It was diaspora in the truest sense, where the penetration of Hindu civilization, culture, languages in South East Asia took place so peacefully that the indigenous population never felt that their country had been taken over.’ Here is a book that chronicles the 2,500 years of Indian settlement abroad in lucid terms in one of its chapters. This highly readable panorama of the Hindu way of life, as opposed to narrow religion described in dry, abstract terms, presents the full canvas of the arts and culture that endures in all NRI communities to this day. In full colour, it is an ide

al introduction for the new NRI generation to learn about their heritage from their gods, scriptures to their fine arts, dance and music. The author writes with the experience of travels to almost all the countries with NRI populations and many more where he was sent to lecture on Indian art and culture.

He scripts the NRI saga right up to the present day. He outlines how the British rulers channelled the recent waves of Indian settlement abroad. After the abolition of slavery, the planters needed farm workers and so they tapped the huge manpower resource of India for the sugar plantations of Jamaica, South Africa and Mauritius from UP and Bihar. They needed workers to build the Kenya Uganda Railway towards the end of the 19th century, so they sent them from Punjab. They needed farmers for the hostile lands of Canada and so Punjabi farmers were allowed in.

After the Second World War, both Britain and the US needed factory workers, skilled professionals and admitted Indians in large numbers from 1960 onwards. The latest flow of Indian immigrants to the US, Britain and Canada came from east Africa in the 1960s to 1980s when the independent African governments wanted to provide jobs for their indigenous peoples. At the end of the last century, Indian IT workers went to fix the Millennium Bug in the computer systems followed by thousands of IT professionals.

Wherever NRIs settled, they have prospered. As law-abiding citizens by and large, they have preserved enduring Indian values. And they have maintained their links with India from distant lands through their way of life. Banerjee pays NRIs a warm tribute by writing, ‘This is no mean achievement, in spite of the initial handicaps and owes a lot to the innate vitality of the Indian civilization.’ In brief, India has always been ‘a soft super power’.

29 May 2007

(A media consultant to a UN Agency, Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor and has traveled to over 55 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at: kulbhushan2038@gmail.com)

1,493 custodial deaths during 2004 -2005, India’s National Human Rights Commission

Custodial Torture is rampant in India

The National Conference stated the statistics of torture as provided by National Human Rights Commission such as 1,493 custodial deaths, including 136 deaths in police custody and 1,357 deaths in judicial custody during 2004-2005 represent only minuscule of the cases of torture in India.

New Delhi, June 25 : The “National Conference on Prevention of Torture in India” organized today by Asian Centre for Human Rights urged the Government to create national law to prohibit and prevent torture.

Participants at the seminar said that the onus should be put on the accused law enforcement personnel for putting in place guarantees for the protection of the victims and witnesses of torture.

The National Conference also called for the repeal of laws which facilitate the perpetration of torture, ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and extend an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit India.

The inaugural session of the National Conference was addressed by P C Sharma, former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation and Member of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Parimal Bardan of the Delegation of the European Commission to India and Larry Maybee, Regional Legal adviser of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

With 19 out of 28 States of India presently being afflicted by internal armed conflicts, violence and torture by the security forces and the armed opposition groups have become more blatant, acute and rampant.

The armed opposition groups are responsible for barbaric torture such as chopping off tongues, firing at legs and mutilation of the body parts in order to create fear. Often victims are brutally tortured in full public view and then sentenced to deaths by the so called Jana Adalats. The International Committee of the Red Cross must be permitted to ensure the respect for the Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions on Non-International Armed Conflicts.

The National Conference also censured India’s continued refusal to extend an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

The National Conference also urged the Government of India to implement recommendations of the Justice (retd) Jeevan Committee to Review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 and to do away with the regime of impunity by repealing Sections 45 and 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code which make it mandatory to seek prior permission of the governments for prosecution of the law enforcement personnel accused of human rights of violations.

Monday 25th June, 2007 (ANI)

Only 17out of 474 Indian civil service winners are Muslims

New Delhi: A total of 17 Muslims have cleared the written and interview process of the Civil Services Exam of 2006. The top Muslim candidate Shamim Abidi appears on rank 16.

The written exam was help in October-November of 2006 and interview held in April-May of this year. The List of 474 candidates was released by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) today. The successful candidates are recommended for appointment to Indian Adminstrative Service, Indian Foreign Service, Indian Police Service and Central Services.

The list of 474 candidates include 214 General (including 13 Physically Challenged candidates), 144 Other Backward Classes (including 03 Physically challenged candidates), 80 Scheduled Castes (including 02 Physically challenged candidates) and 36 Scheduled Tribes candidates.

17 Muslims among the list of 474 successful candidates give Muslims a representation of 3.59% which considering their lower number in higher studies is quite remarkable and indication of hard work put on by Muslim students. Another welcome trend this year is an increase in number of Muslim girls clearing the Civil Services Exam.

Appointment to various services is based on available vacancies and merit ranking of candidates. The number of vacancies reported by the Government for the Indian Administrative Service is 89 (45 General, 24 Other Backward Classes, 13 Scheduled Castes and 07 Scheduled Tribes); for the Indian Foreign Service is 20 (10 General, 05 Other Backward Classes and 05 Scheduled Castes); for the Indian Police Service is 103 (51 General, 28 Other Backward Classes, 16 Scheduled Castes and 08 Scheduled Tribes); for the Central Services Group ‘A’ is 294 (152 General, 80 Other Backward Classes, 43 Scheduled Castes and 19 Scheduled Tribes) and for Central Services Group ‘B’ is 27 (15 General, 07 Other Backward Classes, 03 Scheduled Caste and 02 Scheduled Tribe). This includes 18 vacancies for Physically Challenged candidates in the Indian Administrative Service and Central Services Group-“A”& “B”.

17 Muslims selected for Civil Services, By TwoCircles.net staff reporter, Thursday, 17 May 2007

186 million Indians don’t have voter ID cards!

A decade-and-a-half after the electoral photo identity card (EPIC) scheme began, and despite Rs 1,500 crore having been spent so far on the project, more than 186 million Indians — or more than a quarter of all eligible voters — still do not have these cards. It is a failure that could lie at the heart of voter fraud and low voting percentages. Until recently, even former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) JM Lyngdoh was among them. “We have been living in this area for four years now. Our photographs were taken about half a dozen times, but it was only recently that we were issued the cards,” Lyngdoh said on the telephone from his home near Chevella in Ranga Reddy district, Andhra Pradesh.

Only about 510 million out of more than 697 million voters in the country — or 73 per cent of the electorate — have so far received the cards, according to Election Commission records accessed by HT. The scheme was begun in 1993 when T.N. Seshan was the CEC.

Assam — the state represented by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Rajya Sabha — has had no cards distributed at all. “As it always happens, the last-mile problem affects this work also,” CEC N Gopalaswami told HT.

There are 18 other documents — such as passports, driving licences, PAN cards, government ID cards and ration cards, among others — that voters are allowed to use to establish their identity at polling booths.

But officials feel that millions of rural voters still have no access to any of the 18 documents. Gopalaswami said a new strategy of preferentially covering the rural population with EPIC was being planned.

Neelesh Misra, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, May 15, 2007

India needs 124 years for clearing pending cases in its courts

Backlog of cases has become a big problem for the judiciary — from the Supreme Court to the subordinate courts. At the current speed, the lower courts, may take 124 years for clearing 2.5 lakh cases.

In the last seven years, the disposal rate has increased by 48 per cent in the high courts and by 28 per cent in the subordinate courts, but the pendency has increased. Thus, it is the system (and not the judges) which is at fault. Unless the disposal rate improves, the backlog will keep mounting. To make rule of law a reality, the arrears will have to be reduced.

Speedy justice is an assurance extended to a citizen under the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution. Right to speedy trial is an important right in the UK and US. The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees all persons accused of criminal wrongdoing the right to a speedy trial.

The US had enacted the Speedy Trial Act of 1974 which had fixed standard time requirements for timely prosecution and disposal of criminal cases in district courts. In 1990, the US Congress enacted another legislation that directs each district court to devise and adopt a civil expense and delay reduction plan. Similar laws need to be enacted in India.

While new cases in the high courts exceeded 16 lakh cases in 2006, the disposal rate was 15 lakh. Thus, new cases exceeded the actual disposal of cases. For the first time in past eight years, disposal of criminal cases by high courts exceeded. Pendency in subordinate courts had increased from 2.04 lakh in 1999 to 2.57 lakh in 2005. In 2006, the figure has slightly come down to 2.49 lakh. In all, 40,243 cases are pending in the Supreme Court as on Jan 31, 2007.

The executive and the judiciary have taken many corrective measures for speedy disposal of cases. The Centre has been extending the judge strength from time to time, but not to the extent of the recommendations of the Law Commission. Due to these efforts, the disposal rate has risen by 48 per cent in the high courts and by 28 per cent in the subordinate courts. But then, pendency has also increased due to more fresh filing of cases.

Delay is an issue in the US courts too, but it is not to the extent of decades as in India. In the US, numerous reasons for delay have been assigned most of which are outside a court’s control. Judges have many duties. In addition to trial, judges conduct sentencing, pretrial conferences, settlement conferences, motion hearings, write orders and opinions, and consider other court matters both in the courtroom and in their chambers. Attorneys and/or litigants may be responsible for delays.

Cases may be delayed because settlement negotiations are in progress. Some courts also experience shortage of judges or available courtrooms. The number of judges in a court is decided by dividing the average institution of main cases during the last five years by the national average, or the average rate of disposal of main cases per judge per year in that high court, whichever is higher.

The ratio of judges per million population in this country is the lowest in the world. The population and judges ratio in India is 13.5 judges per 10 lakh people as compared to 135 to 150 per 10 lakh people in advanced countries. The ratio of judges per million of population is about 58 judges in Australia, 75 in Canada, 51 in the UK and 107 in the US. Due to this low judge-population ratio, the courts are lacking requisite strength of judges to decide the cases.

The average disposal per judge is about 1300 cases in subordinate courts if calculated on the basis of disposal and working strength of judges in 2006. The average disposal of all Indian high courts is about 2400 cases per year. The national average of disposal of cases per judge per year in major high courts is: Kerala, 3,103; Madras, 2,979; Calcutta, 2,919; Punjab and Haryana, 2,900; Karnataka 2,817 and Andhra Pradesh, 2,625.

The national Indian average is 188 cases disposed of among 21 high courts everyday. The Madras High Court leads in terms of speedy disposal of 648 cases, on an average, each day. Tamil Nadu is followed by Uttar Pradesh where the Allahabad High Court (Lucknow and Kanpur benches put together) dispose of 445 cases everyday. Applying the national average of 2400 cases per judge per year, the time for disposal of backlog of cases can be calculated by any one.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court had been successful in increasing the disposal of cases due to special efforts of the judges. The average disposal of cases in this High Court is 2900 as against the national average of 2400 per year. The number of cases pending in this High Court is around 2.60 lakh and old cases over the age of two years are 1.70 lakh.

In the same period, the number of pending cases in the subordinate courts is around 11.8 lakh. This means on an average every thirteenth person of Punjab and Haryana is affected by litigation.

Plaintiffs in most European courts must also pay the legal costs for the defendant if they lose the case. This ‘loser pays costs system’, which is in vogue in nearly every common law jurisdiction outside the US, cuts down on many cases without merit by forcing a claimant to hesitate before filing a questionable lawsuit. But the litigation cost in terms of court fee and award of costs is very low in India and this is the main reason for frivolous litigation.

The advocate fee and other costs have increased many times in the last 50 years, but the court fee is hardly realistic to generate more revenue for creating infrastructure and appointing more judges to strengthen the legal system. There was a time in India when in all civil proceedings costs were invariably awarded or reasons for not awarding costs were given. But nowadays costs are rarely awarded.

The inadequate judge strength, low court fee and not awarding costs against the loser resulting in frivolous litigation are three major causes of delay in the disposal of cases. Owing to the shortage of judges, even if judges work beyond their normal capacity, the arrears are bound to increase. The total number of judges is not adequate to clear the backlog of cases. It is not possible even to dispose of the actual fresh institution.

Clearly, the backlog cannot be cleared without additional strength. To tackle the problem of backlog within a timeframe, we need to allocate additional funds for employing additional judges. Later, as the backlog comes down, these judges would be crucial in keeping the fast pace of the judicial system.

The Tribune, May 20, 2007, Chandigarh, India The writer, Advocate, Supreme Court, is based at Chandigarh

More than 50 pc Muslim women backward in West Bengal : survey

If being born as a girl child is not the bottom-line, as revealed by the nation-wide survey on child abuse, perhaps being born as a Muslim girl in West Bengal is, so points out the National Family Health Survey II.

Be it education, media exposure (watching TV, cinema), health family planning or even in basic decision-making like whether a woman should visit her parents, go to market, or take care of her health, it is the Hindu women, who stalk much higher than their Muslim counterparts.

The National Family Health Survey II has pointed out a glaring gap of more than 50% backwardness among Muslim women, when compared with their Hindu counterparts, in key areas as education and health awareness.

For instance, the survey points out about 56.8 % of Muslim women has no media exposure as against 32.7 % of Hindu women.

Under media exposure, the survey shows that while 6.5% of Muslim women bother to read newspaper as against 17.8% of Hindu women, only 22.3% is interested in watching TV and 30% in listening radio as against 47.2% of Hindu women watching TV and 45% listening radios.

While educational backwardness, illiteracy are reasons of lack of information, TV watching or going to cinema are generally not encouraged because of religious reasons. Principal secretary of Social Welfare department, S.N. Haque, when asked on this said that even till recent times many affluent families would go without TV sets because pictures of women and men and the kind of clothes they wear, being aired, are prohibited in Islam. They are considered “najayez” in our religion.

Islam prefers women being covered up and being properly dressed with minimum exposure of skin. Even men are not allowed to go about in public in anything short of knee-length.

On newspaper reading habit, Haque said that since literacy rate of Muslim women is 20% less than that of Hindu women, reading newspaper is yet to catch up. Even very few Muslim homes keep daily newspaper. Men are in the habit of reading newspapers from local tea-stalls or stationery shop. “It is considered as an unnecessary expenses,” said Mr Haque.

What is worse, GK about anything, for example AIDS, is disastrously low. While only 10.3% of Muslim women have heard about AIDS, 31.2% of Hindu women are aware and updated on AIDS. Again while 47.8% of Hindu women is clueless about avoiding AIDS, nearly double the number of Muslim women (73.8%) is unaware how AIDS could be avoided. The state government has sampled a number causes behind educational backwardness: economic constraints, lack of school facilities in the locality, prejudice regarding education of women.

In health sector, knowledge about immunization, medication is poor among Muslim women. While there are cases of 24.5% fully immunized Muslim infants, the percentage is more than double (52.0%) in case of Hindu infants. Again, Muslim children, receiving one dose of Vitamin A, account to only 27.5% against 50.5% Hindu children, who are administered the dose.

In fact, while 80% of child deliveries among Muslims is not attended by doctors or trained health workers, only 40% of deliveries in Hindu families happens without supervision of any trained-on hands.

While cases of reproductive health problems, mal-nourishment are higher among Muslim women, the percentage of Muslim women suffering from anemia is much less, because consumption of red-meat among them is quite high.

Incidentally, though only 37.6% of Muslim women use modern contraceptive methods as against 50.2% Hindu women, the Muslim women are more open to discussing family planning with their husbands than their Hindu counterparts. Nearly 20.3% women can freely talk with their husband on family planning, whereas Hindu women would rather discus it with mother, sister, friends, neighbours and even daughters.

1. Reads newspaper at least once a week
Muslim–6.5%    Hindu—17.8%

2. Not exposed to media
Muslim–56.8%….Hindu—32.7

3. Percentage involved in decision making on own health care

Muslim–42%—Hindu—46%
4.Access to money

Muslim–42.5% …Hindu–54.0%

5. Knowledge about AIDS

Muslims–10.3%….Hindus–31.2%

Romita Datta, Hindustan Times  Kolkata, April 12, 2007

http://www.nfhsindia.org/westbeng.html