HC wants Delhi govt to expedite hybrid hearings at district courts

The Delhi government told the court that the state law ministry has prepared a preliminary estimate of Rs 227 crore for installation and upgradation of desktops and other infrastructure for hybrid hearings in all seven district court complexes.

Observing that the Delhi government cannot be seen dithering in providing necessary infrastructure required to conduct hybrid hearings – physical as well as online – in district courts, the Delhi High Court Monday said the State incurs a huge expenditure on providing subsidies and issuing advertisements, and the budget envisaged for hybrid courts would only be a fraction of that.

The Delhi government told the court that the state law ministry has prepared a preliminary estimate of Rs 227 crore for installation and upgradation of desktops and other infrastructure, with in-built accessories, for hybrid hearings in all seven district court complexes. The court was also told Rs 12.19 crore would also be spent on increasing the bandwidth. The proposal was sent back to the state Law Minister by the state Finance Minister on August 27 for further discussion, the government submitted.

The division bench of Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Jasmeet Singh said that over 10 days have passed and principal secretaries of Delhi’s Finance, Law, and Food and Supplies departments have been unable to update it about the status of discussion between the law and finance ministers. The officers last month had been asked to remain present before the court on Monday.

Hoping that the State will expeditiously address the issues, the court in the order said: “In case the GNCTD turns down the proposal, the GNCTD will place before this court the complete statement of expenditure incurred by it from April 1, 2020, onwards on grant of subsidies and on issuance of public advertisements.”

When advocate Shadan Farasat, representing the government, submitted that the observation in reference to advertisements may be premature as the government has not indicated that there was any lack of funds, the court said, “We know what will make the government work. We know which nerve to press and, therefore, we have made it conditional. If you turn down and say this is not a priority for you, then we want to know how much you are spending on that.”

“The point is that you have to prioritise. It depends on what your priority is. You want to spend on subsidies, you want to spend on advertisements, or you want to spend on development,” it observed, adding that funds required for courts’ infrastructure was not a wasteful expenditure.

The court also said access to justice is a right which is available to all citizens and on account of the ongoing pandemic, it has been gravely hampered. It said there was no scientific report to suggest that the ongoing pandemic was about to end. “It appears we all are in for a long haul and hearing of cases through the online mode may have to be restored for an indefinite period of time before we are able to resume full physical functioning of courts, consumer courts and forums,” it added.

The bench was hearing petitions seeking hybrid hearings in courts and other quasi-judicial bodies like consumer forums. It had in March asked the government to inform it about the time the State would need to provide adequate infrastructure in district courts so that hybrid hearings can be held in those courts as well. The government had told the court that budgetary provisions would be made by it to meet the requirement.

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