New Delhi: The law ministry recently moved a draft cabinet note seeking the creation of an integrated legal division (ILD) with the aim of reducing litigation and providing competent legal advice to stem huge losses to the exchequer.

This comes against the backdrop of the state being the litigant in a majority of around 30 million cases in various Indian courts.

The draft cabinet note has been moved in line with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s plans to restructure the legal apparatus at its disposal to implement a rules-based regime.

The government plans to set up the ILD on the lines of Integrated Financial Adviser (IFA) scheme of the department of expenditure, wherein 54 Indian legal service (ILS) Officers will be posted in ministries or a cluster of ministries and departments, according to the draft cabinet note reviewed by Mint. In addition, 57 support staff will also be posted to assist them.

“Disputes or litigation at times is the outcome of seemingly imperfect administrative decisions and non-compliance of statutory provisions. Such actions result in full blown and long drawn litigation, consequent burden on the public exchequer, wastage of manpower and adds on to the load on judicial system besides affecting the morale of public servants," the draft cabinet note stated.

India jumped 23 places to rank 77 in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report and such efforts will help improve the ranking.

“The proposal is under active consideration of the government. Implementation issues are being addressed," said a law and justice ministry spokesperson.

Legal affairs secretary Suresh Chandra had earlier spoken about the creation of such a division for providing day-to-day legal advice.

“In domestic and international commercial arbitration there have been numerous instances where huge losses in the form of damages payable by the government occur on account of breach of contractual obligations due to lack of competent advice," the note said.

“Besides, in international negotiations, at times disadvantageous terms and conditions are agreed to, due to non-effective representation from Indian side by the legally trained negotiators/advisers," the note said while pointing towards a spate of international claims arising because of lop-sided bilateral investment treaties and commercial agreements made by the Indian government.

The proposed plan has grouped ministries and departments together for effective functioning of the division. The ministries of defence and external affairs have been clubbed, while those of railways, finance and commerce will have dedicated ILD personnel. The home ministry has been clubbed with the personnel, public grievances and pensions ministry, while telecom has been clubbed with posts, labour with power and water resources, human resource development with culture and social justice, and petroleum and natural gas with coal, mines, chemical and fertiliser, pharmaceuticals, women and child development.

Agriculture, rural development, food, public distribution and consumer affairs ministries have been clubbed for the cluster approach, while the urban development and health ministries have been put together. Similarly, the ministries of surface transport, shipping and civil aviation have been bunched together. The ministries of electronics and information technology, minority affairs, environment and forests, and science and technology and earth sciences have also been clubbed together.

The ILD groups in the prominent ministries will be headed by a joint secretary-level officer, for railways the group will be headed by an additional secretary-level officer.

“This is an ambitious exercise and will help develop the government’s legal expertise and specialisation," said a government official aware of the development requesting anonymity.

Litigation in Delhi High Court is done by the litigation section of the department of legal affairs, while “the litigation involving Union of India before the rest of the High Courts is unorganized and the individual administrative ministries/departments depute their officers to manage their court cases consequently duplicating the efforts and incurring avoidable burden on the public exchequer," the note said.

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