Economist Kaushik Basu once argued that a law is nothing more than ink spilled on a piece of paper (and written in painful English, of course). A situation of abundance of laws but absence of justice is very real in India: Often implementation takes inordinate time. A heavy burden on courts, lack of experience on part of regulators and huge costs are an integral part of this story.
This may change. A government-appointed task force, headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court, M. Jagannadha Rao, concluded that judicial impact assessment of laws should be carried out before Bills are voted into laws. The committee submitted its report last week. A careful look at the law and estimates of the number of court cases it would lead to is a must. In addition, expenditure on account of fresh cases in different courts (trial, appeals, etc.) must be provided by the Centre or states which pass such laws. In the absence of these measures, new laws are likely to be devoid of substance.
Many laws in India are passed without budgeting sufficient money for their implementation or for creating more courts for the purpose. In the naïve view, Parliament and state legislatures just pass laws and affected citizens approach some authority or court to get relief.
In reality, the waiting period before a judgement is delivered in a case is often long. Even in simple civil cases, a waiting period of three years is not unknown. In criminal trials and cases involving big financial stakes, the wait is longer. When appeals and reviews are factored, the cost in terms of money and time lost usually amounts to denial of justice.
It’s not the courts alone that have to bear the burden. In an environment where economic regulation plays an increasingly important role, lack of experience on the part of regulators and the costs due to missteps are very heavy. In today’s India, banking, capital markets, electricity, pharmaceutical pricing and many other sectors are regulated. There are Bills pending in Parliament for regulation of microfinance institutions, insurance, pensions and airports. So far, these have not been analysed from the point of view of the costs of litigation, time involved to settle cases and the burden on existing courts.
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