Tech Support ASAP

A friend texted me the other day – if you wish to trouble someone, sue him. Both of you will get what you deserve!
The conduct of a lawsuit is called litigation – in essence, it means that you bring in legal processes against someone or vice-versa or as the case may be. Lawyers love defining terms and drawing inferences and interpretations, so I will stop right here and get on with this article.
Basically, getting involved in any part of a legal process could be construed as “litigation” – in India, this is a synonym for “unbelievably cruel torture”, “waste of time” and even worse. I do realise that I am possibly slandering and causing grounds for libel, but I guess that’s the better part of living in a democracy. I get to say what I want…or at least till I am not arrested. Akhil Gogoi and his histrionics give me precedent, in case I AM arrested.
It’s been over 60 odd years and the higher up courts have got all the plaudits for “judicial activism” and TV cameras, while down in the gutters, it is still, might is right or rather, money and cunning is all that (legally) matters. The heart cries out for a vigilante leaping off the short roofs of Guwahati town, righting wrongs and basically looking really good in tights….guys like me can only hope for such writer’s wet dreams.

There are over 3 crore (governmental figures, don’t believe them) cases currently pending in various courts in India. In most cases, citizens stand next to nothing chances of actually getting a decree in their lifetimes, much less justice. Did I hear someone mean-mouthing our honourable court processes and declare YET another hunger strike ?!

I went and voted today. There was an ear-splitting screech from the machine as I pressed down on technology in the voting machine which has made ballot rigging a much harder exercise. As I type this on my laptop, I am able to delete most of the text which would probably land me in jail. As most of you read this, you yourselves will possibly understand that it’s not hunger strikes which have caused this present day miracle of an angry voice unheard in the backwaters of India ranting forth on the idiocy of a technologically savvy society from not seeing what is in front of their eyes.

India has more than 791.38 MILLION mobile phone users (as on February 2011) and I just needed to type in “number of cell phone users in India” to get the Wikipedia estimate. Each cell phone is registered and one must provide due papers for accessing the mobile telephony services. No doubt there are loopholes in this process which people have exploited, but by and large, it is still an amazing process where we have managed to map the hitherto innumerable Indian masses.

Technology, in essence, says “eat dust, suckers”…..

As a card-holding member of that particular Indian group – the armchair politicians and sofa do-gooders, the TV remote is the ultimate device for assuaging whatever scrap of social conscience we have. We’d rather have aggressive news anchors sell the “public voice” tabloid style and ask “hard questions” while the “nation watches”.  And then we have dinner, discuss how the country is going to the dogs and go to sleep.

The ordinary citizen can barely make it to the polling station and avoids the courts like the plague – is it any wonder that hunger strikes of octogenarians sell TRP’s?

As the Indian colossus staggers on, riding on the heroic shoulders of a few hundred thousand technology-oriented citizens, it seems there could be answer to many of our so-called “issues” at the feet of technology

I am accused of ranting; therefore, allow me the indulgence of providing a case study. The Indian Judicial Services should do well as the sacrificial goat, with due reverence to our ancient customs – none intended for the IJS, just to make my point clear.

Most Indians know how to access Facebook, in fact, the DWS website informs us that as on July 27, 2010, Facebook registered over 12 million FB users. That figure contains several magistrates and judges of the trial courts in the State of Assam, as per my personal experience and knowledge. The judicial services see fit to install computers in all lower courts at quite an expense and furthermore, the magistrates are given laptops for day to day usage. Playing solitaire during boring legal arguments must have figured mainly during this decision to invest in such infrastructure.

Our legal system has been given a car with very nice upholstery and no engine to speak of. I would not know what kind of software that said judges and magistrates are utilizing, but obviously there is not an intra-net in place to any form of data mining or even run basic trend regressions. There is a point system in place, I have been informed by my legal brethren on the bench, but what formulation thereof? If the judicial system has been optimized and brought up to IT speed, why are these figures not published?

My main question is – why is this data, i.e. the number of trials under processes, under-trials, pre-trials not summarized or mapped?

My supplementary questions are – why is this data not available to the general public? Why is judicial activism only visible in the High Courts and that too as the discretion of the said High Court judges? Why are the processes not subject to review by external audit bodies?

Have you not heard of data mining or MIS (management of information systems)?

Allow me to quote Wikipedia (ever heard of it, you fossils warming those hallowed benches?) –

“Data mining (also known as Knowledge Discovery in Data, or KDD), field of computer science,is the process of extracting patterns from large data sets by combining methods from statistics and artificial intelligence with database management. With recent tremendous technical advances in processing power, storage capacity, and inter-connectivity of computer technology, data mining is seen as an increasingly important tool by modern business to transform unprecedented quantities of digital data into business intelligence giving man in a wide range of profiling practices, such as marketing, surveillance, fraud detection, and scientific discovery. The growing consensus that data mining can bring real value has led to an explosion in demand for novel data mining technologies”

Again –

“A management information system (MIS) is a system that provides information needed to manage organizations effectively. Management information systems involve three primary resources: technology, information, and people. It’s important to recognize that while all three resources are key components when studying management information systems … the most important resource is people. Management information systems are regarded to be a subset of the overall internal controls procedures in a business, which cover the application of people, documents, technologies, and procedures used by management accountants to solve business problems such as costing a product, service or a business-wide strategy. Management information systems are distinct from regular information systems in that they are used to analyze other information systems applied in operational activities in the organization. Academically, the term is commonly used to refer to the group of information management methods tied to the automation or support of human decision making, e.g. Decision Support Systems, Expert systems, and Executive information systems”

We are discussing technology which has been around for quite a bit of time – and guess what, Indian companies lead the way in delivering the same to clients such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, USAID, Havard Med School and many more. But God forbid that the Indian citizen’s hard earned taxes should be spent in such frivolous expenditure. I mean, seriously, we would be depriving the families of all those tout’s posing as lawyers, the clerks in the records branches and many, many more of their livelihood now, wouldn’t we?

And what if the said data WERE to be mined or the information so available is checked against census records, or even records from the telecom sectors? Would it be really possible that there would be a massive culling out of people who are dead, cases which are already time barred or worse, release prisoners who have been detained illegally?

Every VILLAGE in India now has cyber café’s – why does the average Indian litigant have to bribe the court master (peshkar) to know the next date or even submit a petition for absence? Would it be so hard to explain to our dearly beloved judicial services that it might be possible to run a basic website informing litigants of the status of their cases?

But wait, I hear people (highly placed people who sneer for a living – worse than the armchair brigade) scream about the cost. Of course there is cost – when was the last time any of you fat cats being driven in fancy white sedans with air-conditioning last understand the cost of a litigant who gives up a day’s wage to travel to the city, waits the entire day for his case to be heard and be finally informed that due to some issue (the magistrate’s grand-daughter’s birthday or the public prosecutor’s hangover) the case was deferred to the next leap year’s February the 29th.

Cost is subjective, cost is perspective – ask a man running around the courts for the last 10 years just to get a decree, much less justice, what cost really is. But in reality, hyperbole aside, the car’s been bought already, the infrastructure is in place – an engine or the right software would cost a few lacs. Certainly cheaper than the fleet of new white sedans I see every time I pass the High Court of our glorious State.

Of course – we could NEVER implement such radical processes, it would show up so many people, processes and so much else in bad light and no one really wants that.

And technology, in essence, is told “eat dust, suckers”…

Someone get my bail money.

Debashish Goswami

*This piece has been selected as a Winning Entry for the ‘Viewspaper Express Yourself Writing Competition’*