When I was in India, I visited the High Court of Bombay. It’s surprisingly easy to get in. Wandering around the halls and offices, upstairs and downstairs, I was surprised to see stacks and stacks of papers piled up against walls all bound with….red tape.
In an excellent piece in the WSJ, Niharika Mandhana and Vibhuti Agarwal, describe a similar court in Allahabad.
Tattered stacks of case paper were piled on racks, tables, chairs and the floor. Towers of folders spilled into corridors where passersby toppled smaller stacks. Files from 2015 mixed with ones from 2016 and 2017, creating a nightmare for officers struggling to locate hundreds of them every day.
On a stuffy third floor, Amit Kumar Yadav, age 35, squeezed sideways through dust-laden stacks, then pulled himself up on his toes and vaulted over the paperwork that carpeted the floor.
After an eight-hour hunt, he was still missing 17 of 65 files for the next day’s hearings. Those cases won’t be heard.
In my review of the Marathi movie Court, I said
Court not only shows the mundane production of injustice it structures itself around that theme. Scenes drift on for longer than expected. The movie builds tension like a conversation with uncomfortable pauses. The audience begins to fidget and think “when will this be over.” That’s intentional. In a two-hour movie Tamhane makes you feel a little like what the people in Indian court must feel, trapped.
That’s not a great advertisement for a movie but you watch Court not for the watching but for the experience of having watched. Even now the tension and the feel of the movie are with me and add color to observations like this:
Waiting anxiously in the back of a nearby courtroom, Mohammad Aqeel Hasan, a 27-year-old farmer, has lost count of the number of court trips he has made from his village. He said he was sure it was fewer than his father had made in the 1983 lawsuit against their neighbor. Each side claims ownership of land between their properties.
His father had won a swift victory in a lower court, but the decision was overturned on appeal. His father’s appeal of that decision has been pending since 1986. A few years ago, when his father could no longer travel, Mr. Hasan took over.
“At this rate, the case will go on for hundred years,” Mr. Hasan said. Court appearances require a 10-hour journey by train from his village.
Mr. Hasan’s case came and went in a heartbeat. The other side’s lawyer had sent an illness slip, forcing a delay.
“Not well again?” the judge said, and he moved the hearing to another month.
Mr. Hasan was crestfallen. “Coming to court is not easy,” he said, heading to the railway station for his trip home.
See also my piece, A Twisted Tale of Rent Control in the Maximum City.