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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 27 February 2024

  1. Phase III of the e-Courts Project
  2. An Expansive Land Management Policy is Overdue


Context:

In the contemporary era dominated by digital advancements that have seamlessly integrated into our daily lives, the judicial system faces the imperative of adapting and harnessing technology for the collective benefit of society. At the forefront of this transformative endeavor in India is the e-Courts Mission Mode Project (MMP), which, now in its Phase III, represents a noteworthy leap towards fostering a justice delivery system that is not only more efficient but also accessible and transparent.

Relevance:

GS-2

  • E-Governance
  • Judiciary
  • Government Policies & Interventions

Mains Question:

With reference to the recently initiated Phase III of the e-Courts Mission Mode Project (MMP), analyse the achievements of the project’s Phase I and Phase II. How does the Phase III propel us forward towards the goal of a modern, inclusive, and technologically advanced justice system. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

About the e-Courts Project:

e-Courts Integrated Mission Mode Project:

Overview & Implementation:

  • The e-Courts Integrated Mission Mode Project, initiated in 2007 focusses on the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) development of the Indian Judiciary.
  • The initiative is collaboratively executed in partnership with the e-Committee Supreme Court of India and the Department of Justice.

Phases:

The project unfolds in distinct phases:

  • Phase I: Implemented between 2011 and 2015.
  • Phase II: Initiated in 2015, computerizing various District & Subordinate courts.

Project Initiatives:

Several initiatives have been undertaken as part of the project’s objectives, including:

  • Network Enhancement: The Wide Area Network (WAN) Project has achieved connectivity for 99.4% of total Court Complexes across India, featuring improved bandwidth speed.
  • Open-Source Software: The Case Information Software (CIS) operates on Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC).
  • NJDG Database: The National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) serves as an online platform, offering information on orders, judgments, and cases from computerized district and subordinate courts.
  • Case Status Information Access: Open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), introduced in 2020, facilitate access to NJDG data by Central and State Governments, institutional litigants, and local bodies, enhancing pendency monitoring and compliance. Seven platforms provide real-time information to lawyers and litigants.
  • Electronic Case Management Tools (ECMT): Mobile Apps have been developed for lawyers and judges to efficiently manage cases.
  • Virtual Courts: Operational in 21 Virtual Courts across 17 States/UTs, handling traffic challan cases and processing over 2.40 crore cases.
  • Video-Conferencing (VC): Enabled VC facilities between court complexes and jails, with the Supreme Court leading globally in conducting numerous hearings.
  • E-filing: A new e-filing system has been introduced with enhanced features, adopted by 19 High Courts as of 2022.
  • Summons Handling: The National Service and Tracking of Electronic Processes (NSTEP) initiative, currently operational in 28 States/UTs, facilitates technology-enabled process serving and summons issuance.
  • User-friendly Portal: The “Judgment Search” portal, offering user-friendly features, has been initiated, providing free access to everyone.

Awareness and Familiarization:

To foster widespread awareness and familiarity with eFiling and eCourts services, manuals and brochures are available in English, Hindi, and 11 regional languages for the benefit of lawyers.

Phase III of the e-Courts Project:

The overarching goal of this phase is nothing short of a revolution in the Indian judiciary, with a particular focus on leveraging digitization to introduce innovative features and technologies that enhance court operations and elevate the overall judicial ecosystem.

Digitization and Preservation of Court Records:

  • The digitization and preservation of court records, targeting around 3100 crore documents is an objective of Phase III.
  • Concurrently, the establishment of Paperless Courts takes center stage in this phase, emphasizing a strategic shift from traditional paper-based processes to a more efficient digital paradigm.
  • By reducing reliance on physical documents and embracing digital alternatives, this initiative aspires to streamline court processes, eliminate the cumbersome burden of paperwork, and elevate the efficiency of case management.
  • The transition to a paperless environment is not merely a procedural enhancement; it is a paradigm shift that not only conserves time and resources but also makes a meaningful contribution to environmental sustainability.

Incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Other Technologies:

  • Furthermore, the upcoming Phase III of the e-Courts Mission Mode Project is poised to incorporate cutting-edge technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), marking a crucial advancement.
  • AI-driven systems are anticipated to assume a pivotal role by assisting in legal research, case analysis, and decision-making, thereby lightening the load on judges and enhancing the expediency and precision of judgments.
  • The integration of AI into the judicial system holds the promise of elevating the overall quality and consistency of legal outcomes, ensuring that verdicts are fair and impartial.
  • This financial investment is intended to facilitate the deployment of state-of-the-art hardware and software, along with the establishment of robust cloud infrastructure, networking enhancements, and initiatives for capacity-building among judicial personnel.

Significance of Digitization Efforts:

  • The advantages brought about by the digitization efforts in e-Courts Phase III extend beyond mere improvements in efficiency and accessibility; they also contribute to fostering transparency and accountability within the justice system.
  • The utilization of technology to live-stream court proceedings has a profound impact, allowing the general public to directly observe the judicial process.
  • This, in turn, contributes to building trust, ensuring judicial accountability, and empowering citizens to actively participate in the administration of justice.
  • As Phase III of the eCourts Mission Mode Project unfolds, we stand at the threshold of a transformative era in the Indian justice system.
  • It represents a significant stride toward realizing the vision of a citizen-centric justice delivery system, where every individual, regardless of their background, can efficiently and cost-effectively access their constitutional rights and seek redressal.

Conclusion:

The digital transformation observed in Phase III of the eCourts initiative represents a significant achievement on the path to developing a modern, inclusive, and technologically advanced justice system. Through wholeheartedly embracing the capabilities of digital technologies, India is laying the groundwork for a future where justice is authentically within reach for everyone, thereby strengthening the foundational principles of equality, fairness, and the rule of law.



Context:

Land plays a central role in all human activities, offering ecological, economic, social, and cultural services. However, the multifaceted nature of land is often overlooked in land management practices, leading to increased stress, land degradation, and environmental depletion. Globally, the annual losses of ecosystem services due to land degradation are estimated at $6 trillion.

Relevance:

GS3-

  • Land Reforms
  • Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation

Mains Question:

In the context of rising land degradation, discuss the challenges faced by India in land management and suggest an effective way forward strategy in this regard. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Global Recognition of the Issue of Land Degradation:

  • The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14) in New Delhi in 2019 specifically addressed the issue of land degradation experienced by various countries and emphasized the necessity of finding ways to achieve land degradation neutrality.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on ‘Climate Change and Land’ in 2019 recommended country-level assessments of land management practices and proposed both near- and long-term actions. The focus was on land management options that reduce competition for land, offering co-benefits while minimizing negative impacts on crucial ecosystem services.
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization’s report, ‘State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture: The System at Breaking Point’ in 2021, stressed the urgency needed to address a previously neglected area of public policy and human welfare. This involves caring for the long-term future of land, soil, and water.

Challenges Faced by India:

Access to Agricultural Land:

  • India faces numerous land management challenges despite having only 2.4% of the world’s geographical area and accommodating over 17% of the global population.
  • Approximately 55% of India’s total geographical area is designated as arable land, while another 22% is covered by forests.
  • The remaining portion includes deserts, mountains, and other terrains, with around 30% of the total geographical area classified as degraded land.
  • The issue of access to agricultural land remains crucial, especially considering that a significant portion of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Rising Pressures on Land:

  • The country is grappling with unprecedented pressures on land due to development goals, the need for land to support the expanding population, infrastructure requirements, rapid urbanization, and considerations related to social, cultural, and environmental aspects.
  • These factors contribute to heightened competition among farmers, conflicts between agriculture and other land resource-based sectors, escalating land prices, and evolving land rights. This situation is leading to the shrinking of natural areas and the loss of ecological functions across the nation.
  • The adverse effects are not limited to the livelihood opportunities of those directly dependent on environmental resources; they also impact the buffering effects of natural ecosystems during disasters such as floods, droughts, temperature rises, and environmental pollution. Additionally, climate change has introduced a new set of challenges, further complicating the landscape.

Sectoral Approach:

  • In India, the existing practices in land management are characterized by a sectoral approach, where each department follows its own strategies.
  • The responsibility for land management lies within the jurisdiction of State governments. Additionally, cultural land is typically privately owned, and constitutionally, the owner is vested with the authority to make land-use decisions.
  • In addition to this administrative complexity, the challenges in adopting and implementing appropriate land management practices in the country include knowledge gaps, a bias towards short-term planning, a fragmented approach, a lack of preparedness for unforeseen events, and regulatory barriers.

Way Forward:

Establishing a Multi-Stakeholder Platform:

  • To address these challenges and achieve sectoral integration, establishing a multi-stakeholder platform at the district and sub-district levels is crucial.
  • This platform should bring together farmers, other land managers, policymakers, civil society organizations, business leaders, and investors under a common umbrella.
  • Article 243ZD (1) of the Constitution outlines the provision for district planning committees to consolidate plans from panchayats and municipalities. This committee can be activated to formulate a comprehensive land management plan covering both agricultural and non-agricultural sectors.
  • Employing a landscape approach in this context can be beneficial, providing in-depth insights into assessing the potential of land and determining the allocation and reallocation of land for suitable uses.
  • This approach aids in evaluation, negotiation, trade-offs, and decision-making. A climate-smart landscape approach contributes to climate objectives, enhances agricultural production, improves local livelihoods, and promotes the conservation of biodiversity.

Institutional Support:

  • Scientific research has emphasized the significance of viewing land as a comprehensive system and advocating for integrated landscape management. While there is substantial practical experience supporting this approach, there is a notable absence of systematic institutional backing.
  • The European Landscape Convention underscored that landscape is a fundamental element contributing to individual and social well-being.
  • A report from the U.K. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, titled ‘Sustainable land management: managing land better for environmental benefits,’ in 2021 highlighted that actions addressing climate change, ensuring food security, and addressing the biodiversity crisis all hinge on how land is managed.
  • The report cautioned the U.K. government about the inadequacy of existing policies and targets in comprehensively addressing the intricacies of land management, farming, and the natural environment.

Conclusion:

Perhaps, Indian parliamentarians can take the lead in deliberating on the emerging challenges associated with integrated land management practices. They can play a pivotal role in formulating appropriate policies for long-term sustainability, involving all stakeholders across various scales, both horizontally and vertically.


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