December 30, 2016

Visualizing a New India 2017- Episode 1: Speeding Up Indian Judiciary

2017 is just few hours ahead; Every New year we make certain resolutions and keep some of them. We start with new aspirations and realign our goals. Therefore, it is time that we visualize a new India, without corruption, efficient technologically, where everyone is delivered timely justice and every individual has access to school and education. This is the first and foremost blog of my New Year series "Visualizing a New India" where I brainstorm ideas and innovations to India's long drawn problems. 

"The execution of law is more important than making them," said Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence. His statement couldn't have been truer if seen in context with the current state of Indian judiciary. The judicial system in India lags behind with millions of cases queued up thanks to inadequate infrastructure and vacant seats. A swift justice delivery system is as important as the law itself. No doubt, any law holds redundant unless its violators are punished. Therefore, here are some steps that can be implemented to speed up the Indian judiciary.

Petty Offenses- Minimizing Time Wastage in Courts

There are a number of petty offenses which eat up a lot of time of courts. The Indian Penal Code prescribes a special procedure for such petty offenses, which asks the court to send a fine letter along with the summoning to the accused. This means that in case the accused doesn’t wish to participate in the judicial trial, he/she can simply pay the fine and the case would be taken back. However, this only applies for ‘petty offenses’ which refers to offenses with accusations of less than 1000 rupees. This limit can be extended to, say a 10000 rupee limit. There are thousands of people who would prefer paying the 10k fine rather than getting into the never-ending, lethargic judicial process which would itself cost them more than their fine. Taking such a measure would enable the court to zero down on the time spent on such petty cases and hence, concentrate on more important cases.

Pre-trial Hearing- Justice by Negotiation

The concept of pre-trial hearing must be implemented in the Indian judiciary for reducing time wastage in courts. A pre-trial hearing, typically, happens when the prosecutor wants to place a plea bargain to the accused. However, in context of the Indian judiciary, the purview of a pre trial hearing can be slightly altered. Cases must be made to pass through a pre trial session where a junior judge or retired judge acting as mediator tries to find a negotiable deal between the parties involved in the case. If both the sides of the court case reach an agreement, then the trial is suspended and the judicial time is saved. Encouraging such a system would further help reduce the review cases in higher courts as the case is being solved by agreement. However, in order to restore the credibility of judiciary, it is important that the cases where a pre trial agreement is not reached or the agreement reached is later disputed; the trial is allowed to commence or be reinstated.   

Specialization of Judges- Better and Faster Conflict Resolution

A system must be developed which recognizes judges and categorizes them as per their expertise into different categories like marriage, murder, kidnapping, corporate tax, etc. Court cases related to divorce must preferably go to the judge specialized in marriage. This would help in hastening up the process as the judge would be well-aware of the laws and previous rulings of his/ her expertise area. This would not only make the functioning more efficient but also qualitatively better. When I discussed such a proposal with my friends, one of them did not like the idea because that he believed that would lead to an imbalance of cases, with one judge having very high workload and the other being very free. He had clearly misunderstood me. When I write about specialization of judges, I mean to say that the philosophy of specialization must be followed and not a law of specialization. Therefore, in case of a dispute over say, divorce the case must preferably go to the marriage judge; however that doesn’t mean it cannot be heard by other judges.

Case Management- Better Categorization

There are numerous instances where important cases such as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case weren’t ruled because the court was too busy going over petty and less important cases. Therefore, it is extremely important that some cases are prioritized over others and must be carried forward at a faster rate. Such categorization is though a hugely subjective task and would require qualified manpower; however the task can be made more objective by providing simple guidelines. For example, cases under the category of ‘rape’ must be prioritized over cases in the category of ‘theft.’ A priority list can be prepared.

Secondly, under such categorization, cases which are similar or litigations about the same thing can be grouped and heard together or in parallel. Thirdly, it is very interesting that a huge number of cases lagging in the courts are those amongst state governments, central government and other institutions of the government. Another institution under the judiciary can be built to deal with intergovernmental cases so that the frontend judicial system can wholly focus on matters involving the citizens.  

Concluding Notes

One can go on and on reforming the archaic judicial procedures and ideas in India which have changed a little since the British raj. Some believe that the Lok Adalats which are currently held once or twice a year must be made permanent institutions. Others pitch for the idea of e-courts where disputes can be instantly solved by negotiation with the help of an online mediator. A lot of people believe that the number of holidays must be reduced and the courts must function for more than 250 days if not 365. Some critics suggest that the courts can be made to function 24x7 so as to get more time for trials. However, prerequisite to all these reforms is the need to fill in the vacancies in the judicial system. There are only about three-quarters of judges working out of the total required number. It would be wrong to simply say that the vacancies must be filled as more than just filling the vacancies, what is important is that the vacancies are appropriately filled.

Unarguably Indian judiciary even though slow and sluggish, is largely unbiased and has so far, retained its credibility. Only a few cases exist where the court decisions were challenged by undemocratic means and not accepted. Therefore, my only fear remains that in the haste to fill up the vacancies, the Indian judiciary doesn’t compromise on its credibility and quality. No doubt, justice delayed is justice denied but swift justice at the cost of no real justice doesn’t seem to be a very convincing idea to me.

Thank you for reading and keep on checking FasciNative for the next episodes!

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December 21, 2016

A Visit to Kota- Coaching, Lifestyle, Culture and Business

This week I happened to visit the town of Kota in Rajasthan. Before I move on, let me make myself very clear- I am not studying in Kota but just happened to visit the town. Nor do I intend to go to Kota for my higher studies and so, all my observations are that of a visitor, not a resident which I am sure would be uglier than my romanticized experience.

If you take the name of Kota in front of any Indian guy, the first thing he would link Kota with is a coaching hub with innumerable prep classes for engineering and medical colleges. Not that there is anything wrong with the linkage, but apart from that, Kota is also known for a special stone found there called Kota stone which make themselves visible much before you enter the coaching city. The seven hour long journey from Indore to Kota was the worst that I have ever been on, with only a few good food joints and miserable roads. I wasn't sure how such a remote town ever developed into a hub from where students from across the country came.

But as soon as we entered the city of Kota, our hunger and drowsiness drowned into the excitement and energy that we experienced. It was quite abrupt. One moment we were in a jungle and the next, we were in the town faced by huge structures on both our sides. My perception of Kota as a rusty-dusty town was busted by the sight of a huge empire besides the city mall, as huge as a 5 star hotel. The very sight of the building gave me an idea of the hugeness of the whole coaching 'industry' but then we took a right as we were to visit Allen first.

The Champion Managers- Allen Career Institute 

And so with the help of Google Maps and some sense of direction, we reached a gully, Not an ordinary one but a gully where on both sides we had Allen campuses with different names all starting with 'S.' It seemed as if the whole gully had been bought by Allen. And the few other plots which did not have Allen coaching institutes, had Allen hostels. Everyone in that gully was in a grey uniform boasting their 'Allen' logo. The whole street seemed as crowded as a chowpatty with some students entering one of the many institutes, and others exiting the institutes to go back to their hostels. We finally reached the head office. The head office had a beauty of its own. You could see about 200-300 students sitting in the veranda but not a single noise. Each one of them was studying and not even one of them was talking. I compared this with the noise that is created when a mere 30 student class in my school is asked to study. 

I got into a conversation with some students I found there. One student told me that he had 260 students in his class. Always having studied in a 30 student class and personally tutored, the number scared me. But what was more scary was the cost of it. Each student paid approximately 1.5 lacks every year which when multiplied by 250 (for the sake of easier calculations) gives 3.75 crore rupees. And Allen was running 8 such batches simultaneously at each of their 15 centers. And do not forget that this was only for their IIT-JEE division, medical and junior division not added and other centers (outside Kota) not added. This was unimaginably huge, it was a multimillionaire company in its own sense.  

What was even more startling was that not even one student I talked to was dissatisfied with Allen. I was wondering how a coaching institute could manage, discipline and teach 66 thousand students every year at a single place, yet recognizing and categorizing the brilliant ones and reshuffling them. Allen was truly, a champion manager. Inspite of the grand number they were serving to, they upheld their discipline and morals.  

The Big Arrogant Empire- Resonance

Remember, the huge empire beside the city mall? Our next stop was to be the same building. It was the huge boastful empire of Resonance. It seemed that unlike Allen, Resonance did not believe in buying numerous small plots of lands but making one large empire, which was so huge and beautiful from the outside. The building was a brand of its own, with the Resonance logo embedded in every part of it, ranging from the shape of the gate to the pillar at the entrance of the building.

But when we entered, we were to be met by an unimaginable site of more than 3000 cycles, meticulously parked in rows and columns. It was an exciting view as I had not seen so many cycles at one place ever before. While my parents were having a conversation with the receptionist at Resonance, I just went inside to have a look at the building and by chance a class was going on. I could see the classroom filled over its capacity with more than 200 people sitting on the benches and an additional 50 students sitting on chairs they had kept in the alley and everywhere else they got space. One child sat just at the juncture of the class and the corridor. Had someone even sneezed, he would have been pushed out of the class. And then a bell rung and there was a sudden influx of students from all directions. I was pushed from all directions. The site was horrific and inspiring at the same time. I became nervous and rushed back to the reception or else I would have got dragged with the flow of the crowd.
Resonance was mighty big. Honestly speaking, its atmosphere scared me. It was like a railway station inside with loads of people going in all directions and shops and canteens selling refreshments. Though I think it would be wrong to make any interpretations out of a couple of minutes spent, but my gut feeling told me that it wasn't the kind of disciplined coaching institute Allen was. 

The Kota Difference

The greatness of this place is not just due to the massiveness of the coaching industry there but because of its culture and atmosphere. The kind of atmosphere that you get to experience in Kota, pushes you to study more and work harder. The healthy competition helps you stretch your limits. And if in case you are among the top 20-30 students that they have, they will train you with special efforts, organize extra classes for you, provide you with extra material, extra resources and make the best faculties available at a personal level. This is because if in case they recognize the potential in you to be among the top 10 or top 100 scorers, they would make you work harder and harder as they are motivated towards getting better results. 

The Kota lifestyle and culture plays a very important role in producing sharp brains. The kind of culture where coaching institutes keep their centres open throughout night so that students can study and you can see crowds studying even after midnight. All major coaching classes and hostels are concentrated in a very small area. No one in Kota wastes time on travel. You can easily get a hostel just in front of your coaching class because of the huge number of hostels available. 
However, as every coin has two sides, Kota has some cons as well. Because of the crowd in Kota, you might get lost in case you aren't focused and motivated to do well. In that case, the consequences might be worse and no wonder, a number of students end up deteriorating their performance after going to Kota. Surviving in Kota requires a lot of energy and determination and you need to work with perseverance. 

Wrapped by Education- How Education Fuels Business in Kota?

The society, lifestyle and business environment in the city are all centered around the coaching industry. When we asked a local where we could find a PG (paying guest arrangement) in the city, he said, "Sir, pura Kota hi PG hai." (The whole city is a PG). The interesting thing about the city is that every normal household has commissioned 5-10 rooms in their own homes and earn money by offering students accommodation in these rooms. Other smaller houses offer PGs. Moreover, the competition between hostels has led to more standardization. Every hostel has a more or less same package, inclusive of food, laundry and cleaning but exclusive of electricity cost. Every room in almost all Kota hostels had their own electricity meter where the student is charged as per the electricity used. The cost of the package, though, widely differs depending on the quality of rooms and food. In fact, it goes right from a mere three to four thousand rupees to twenty five to thirty thousand rupees. There are hostels that are miserable in condition and others which are no less than a three star hotel with their own club and screen in the canteen. One of my uncles who went to Kota to study and passed out of IIT- Delhi joked,"If someone chooses to stay in such luxurious hostels, he would not be able to survive in the miserable IIT hostels." In order to facilitate and encourage outstation students' admission and stay, many associations have been formed by the coaching institutes to maintain quality standards. 

Image result for roomkartIndians are known for their entrepreneurial mind. You say opportunity and you will see an Indian making business. Same applies to Kota where a number of people have come up with innovations and business model fueled by the influx of students in Kota every year. One such example is "Roomkart" which is an app providing information about hostels and PGs along with a 360 degree view for students coming to Kota and lets you book it online. Another example is the city mall which  is located right in the middle of the city and runs only and only on students. Can you imagine people selling books and textbooks in entertainment malls? Kota is the place where it all happens. In fact, you can see loads of canopies and stalls selling tabs with loaded classroom videos and exercises. You could buy one tab and start learning at your own pace or catch up on some concept you have missed in your class. 

The coaching business in Kota is inter-woven in the society and economic character of the city. Students and coaching have not only become a brand for Kota but greatly influence the culture and lifestyle of Kota. Every interaction in the city reflects on the kind of mania JEE and AIIMS have become in this country. No wonder, the town of Kota succeeded to excite me. It was so different from all others. The town was pretty small yet the unimaginably huge in the number of students it welcomed every year. It was amazing in a sense and depressing in the other. My words are no justice to the massiveness of the students and coaching institutes in Kota. You would only understand when you visit.   
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