Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud on Thursday said a “huge budget” allotted for the third phase of the e-courts project will see technology make inroads into the working of the judiciary, especially the lower courts.
The Chief Justice was reacting to senior advocate Dushyant Dave’s remark that lower courts need a technological boost.
The top judge, heading a Constitution Bench hearing the challenge to the abrogation of Article 370, narrated in open court about how, during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the High Courts was left in a quandary with no funds to buy the necessary video conferencing software.
“There was a total shutdown at the time, but we had to run the courts,” the CJI said. Finally, some of the licences in the Supreme Court were transferred to that High Court.
“But now we have a huge budget… we are working on it [making lower court technology friendly],” the Chief Justice said.
In February this year, the Union Budget had announced the launch of phase three of the e-courts project with an outlay of ₹7,000 crore while the first two phases of the project were planned and executed with an overall budget of ₹639.411 crore and ₹1,670 crore, respectively.
In his Independence Day address, Chief Justice Chandrachud said the Phase III of the e-Courts project sought to inter-link courts across the country besides setting up the infrastructure of paperless court, digitisation of court records, and setting up advanced e-sewa kendras in court complexes.
The success of virtual courts and the necessity, witnessed during the pandemic, of embracing technology in efficient justice administration had triggered the rise in the budget for the third phase of the project.
The Policy and Action Plan document of the e-committee of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Chandrachud had described the e-court plan as a “integrated mission mode project” to help in the judiciary’s efforts to “transform itself by implementing tools and means of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)”.
The e-courts project has been under implementation since 2007 for the judiciary based on the ‘National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology in Indian Judiciary’, prepared by the eCommittee of Supreme Court in 2005 and approved by the CJI.
According to the vision document draft ‘Digital Courts Vision & Roadmap Phase III of the eCourts Project’ prepared by the Supreme Court e-committee, phase three should prioritise “the creation of a core digital infrastructure that can enable the development of services for dispute resolution by the judiciary and services of solutions for dispute containment and resolution by the ecosystem”.
The e-courts project aims for a pragmatic approach behind the development of a hybrid model, allowing for both physical and virtual courts to co-exist.
“Such a hybrid model will supplement and not supplant physical courtrooms,” the e-committee document explained.