Tuesday 23 December 2014

“…the case went on for years and years and years”*

Just last week, the mother of all delayed cases – the Disproportionate Assets Case against former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, under the Prevention of Corruption Act – has come to a head. Jayalalithaa was in the Supreme Court yesterday, which has deemed the necessity of a swift judicial process in the hearing of her appeals. An exclusive Special Bench will be constituted to address her defence, in the Karnataka High Court, with daily hearings scheduled to finish within three months.

The story of Jayalalitha- the 800 kg of silver, the 28 kg of gold and the 750 notorious shoes, has become the stuff of common parlance for what signifies corruption. In nearly two decades, the corrupting figure of Rs. 66.65 crores – crumbs in the broad expanse of corruption in the legislature – has been featured endlessly in the media.

It is, however, a true case of missing the wood for the trees.

An eighteen year old case, this judicial saga has seen a remarkable trajectory that serves to highlight one of the primary ailments of the Indian judiciary: delay.

For us at DAKSH, the question that is far more pressing is, has justice been done by the recent verdict in the Jayalalithaa case? It is true that this is a rare case of a Chief Minister being brought to justice by the judiciary, demonstrating the independence and possibility of the precept of “nobody above the law” encoded into our Constitution. However, is it justice if it takes eighteen years to deliver it?

Earlier this month, Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu expressed concern over the high numbers of pendency in the Indian courts, as one of the biggest hurdles for the dispensation of justice in the country. On the same day, litigants who have seen 1500-1900 dates in court, formed a human chain to stage a protest outside the Delhi High Court, with the one statement that "We only want justice not delay." Justice A.P. Shah famously remarked in 2011 that it would take the court up to 466 years to clear the backlog in just the Delhi courts.

The problem of pendency -- all cases instituted but not disposed of, regardless of when the case was instituted in the courts -- we have found, is a much studied one, accompanied as it is with a widely held common sense that sees the judiciary as several steps behind its potential in being unable to deliver timely justice. “Justice hurried is justice buried” and “Justice delayed is justice denied”: commonly understood maxims that tell us that the quality of justice is very much dependent on the time taken to deliver it.

DAKSH’s new work, The Rule of Law project , looks at this problem of pendency and backlog in the Indian legal system. As a group of lawyers, sociologist and data analysts, we are excited to bring together a different register of critical energies to understand this problem.

Our first question at the outset of our study has been, what data do we begin to work with? What is pendency, and how do we begin to address it in our research?

We begin our pursuit of this study with a very preliminary and layperson’s perspective of the legal system. The legal system exists to ensure that in case of the violation of this personal freedom, or if a citizen has violated the legal code of our country, justice is meted out in a qualitative manner in accordance with the legal spirit of the country.

While we live in a country with a vast and sprawling network of well-ordered judicial institutions, these systems are densely congested with cases that they are unable to see through in a timely fashion. To put it more simply, while there exists a dynamic and extensive judiciary, the numbers of cases lodged in the system that have not yet seen the light of day, remain an immense challenge to the quality and delivery of justice.

As preliminary leg work for our project, our team has carried out an extensive review of literature to understand why this is the case. What does “delay” in the courts really mean? How do we quantify pendency, and what amount of time is too much, when a case is in process? Can there be a predetermined mandate for how long the resolution of a single case ought to take in a court?

It is with these questions that we have come to understand at DAKSH that a simple number, statistic, or even prescription cannot hold much value in looking at this problem.

We understand from the literature made available by the Supreme Court itself in Court News, that there are 64, 330 cases of pendency in the Supreme Court, 44,56,232 in the High Courts, and 2,68,39,256 in the District and Subordinate Courts, as of 31-12-2012. What do these numbers indicate? If each case in this system has been in the system for only six months since its admission, the number appears less daunting; however, if these cases have been in the system for years, they indicate a wholly different tendency.

So, what is the tendency of pendency? In a country where the judiciary can vary across different states, where the profile of litigants and cultures of litigation differ, what common index can help us understand the difference in what backlogs indicate for different contexts?

In response to various studies that have studied the problem of pendency, DAKSH has undertaken the quantitative task of collating and collecting primary data that is made publicly available by the courts themselves, to allow for further public debate and research that will hopefully be able to throw light on the specificities thrown up by this issue.

It has been seen that it is crucial to produce reliable statistics of the kinds of delay in the various courts in India. Official statistics do exist, but it is not entirely clear what these numbers indicate. More cases are registered in the courts than are resolved, and the movement of disposals in a responsive and qualitative manner will depend, in the future, on a management of pendency within the courts.

Our work at The Rule of Law project is to collect and collate data on the High Courts in the country at an all-Indian level that can be used by researchers, lawyers, even the courts, to study the systems of litigation in our country. As a starting point, The Rule of Law project is collecting primary data from the daily cause list that provides a detailed profile of cases, from different High Courts in the country. Over the course of the coming year, we will be collecting this data for all 24 High Courts and the Supreme Court.

Stay tuned for upcoming blogposts where we will tell you more about our method, which has involved a lot of minute work understanding the courts, and we will present a series of reflections and experiences in collating and organising our data, and the challenges they pose to the study of delays at the court in our country.

*  The blog title is taken from Chief Justice of India H. L. Dattu's comment in the Supreme Court, can be found here: <http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/as-it-happened-a-minutebyminute-account-of-jayalalithaa-bail-hearing/article6510700.ece>

Tuesday 15 April 2014

DAKSH-India Together Fellowship

DAKSH and India Together (www.indiatogether.org) have instituted the DAKSH-India Together Fellowship to encourage data journalism centered around elections. Two of our scholars have written their first pieces- I found both of them to be extremely insightful. In this age of "opinion journalism", this is certainly welcome trend. Congratulations to the editorial team of India Together in starting this initiative and partnering with DAKSH.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Caste- myths and realities

In election season, everybody is a pundit and has a view about the factors that will determine the outcome of the election. The diversity of the electorate ensures that everyone can get their voice in and can claim credit for predicting something right!  One of the all-time favourites during election is the argument around caste and its importance.  For the national English media, the relevance of caste is almost a holy grail, partly because they are unable to understand the intricacies of caste at a local level; it is one of the “others”, but an “other” they believe to be important because everybody including politicians tell them it is the most important other in politics. Regional media thrive on caste; in Karnataka, my home state, veteran journalists and political analysts cry themselves hoarse about various sub-caste intricacies and how one important sub-caste is important or has been hurt and is bound to impact the result dramatically.  And yet, after each election, politicians and the media go to town talking about how the vote was for change (positive or negative) or for good governance or development!
In the DAKSH and Association for Democratic Reforms (“ADR”) survey, we asked the respondents whether caste was important to them when voting in an election. I have tried to capture some of the results in this short entry.
The big numbers- 58% of our respondents (nearly 2,50,000 of them) said that caste of the candidate is not an important factor for them while voting in elections; 24% of our respondents said it was an important factor and 14% said it was a very important factor for them. So, 38% of the respondents said caste of the candidate is important for them when voting in an election. So, caste, whether we like or it is still relevant.
Let us look at some of the other highlights- the biggest surprise was Gujarat. 60% of the respondents said that caste was very important for them and 24% said it was important, making 84% of the respondents saying that it was an important factor.  This was the highest in the country by a long long way! What does this say about the development and good governance NaMo? I will let you make your own conclusions.
Second, of the respondents with a background in the defence sector, nearly 22% said caste is very important and 25% said it is important making 47% of those with a defence background saying that caste is important for them when they vote in elections. Again, this is a shocker given the defence services emphasis on unity and integrity.  Contractors came next with around 42%.
Another surprise is the contrast (or the lack of it) between those with an IT background- nearly 39% say caste is important (of this 16% said it is very important)- and those in Agriculture- for which the number is 36% (of this only 12% said it is very important). What does this say- caste has more or less the same role, whether in rural areas or urban areas and whether you are in a modern profession or a traditional profession.
Let us next look at educational background- irrespective of the level of education (i.e., postgraduate, graduate, high school, primary etc) or lack of it, approximately similar percentage of people feel that caste is important (the % varies between 36 and 41 with high school educated being the highest and primary school educated being the lowest).   Similar even patterns are evident when we look at wealth distribution- the % of people who say caste is important varies between 30 to 35%.
The biggest surprise however is in how people from different castes feel. The % of people who believe that caste is important for them during elections in the OBC, SC and ST category varies between 31 and 35, but is a whopping 43% for people belonging to the General category. Again, I will let you come to your own conclusions on this as well.
We should only remember one aspect, there is no single constituency in the country where a candidate can win with support from only one caste or indeed, the lack of support from any caste (a point that Dipankar Gupta has lucidly explained in his op-ed in The Hindu on March 21http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-caste-bogey-in-election-analysis/article5811003.ece). Further, if any caste is dominant (not only in numbers but because of their influence based on wealth, land holdings and patronage) in a constituency, all political parties put up candidates belonging to the same caste. Analysts argue that in such a case, the caste of the state level or the national level leader becomes relevant! 
We will come up with more analysis on this shortly.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Why do people vote the way they do?

Caveat emptor: I wish I knew. And so do hundreds of wannabe-MPs right now, I'm sure. Karthik Shashidhar's very interesting analysis of our data in Mint earlier this week documents some of the reasons we heard from nearly 2.5 lakh people across the country. In all our past surveys, as in this one, the Candidate is the most common selection: that people vote for the Candidate instead of his/her Party (the second most chosen factor), his/her Party's PM candidate, etc. In all our surveys, again, we've noticed a pattern that Karthik panned us about: 86% of the people who voted said their candidate won. That's obviously not possible, as he's pointed out. Then what's at work here? Let me see if I can address that here.
To understand this, let's look at the most common reasons for people voting they way they do:
  • Ideology-based. This is typically a Leftist and Rightist position: that one votes for a candidate based on the candidate's ideology, if it is clearly present and aligned with one's own. In recent years, people who were just left or right of center have been pushed further along their direction, thanks to strident rhetoric on both sides.
  • Issue-based. Not so common in India (yet!), this is typical in state-level elections in the US, where a specific issue (mostly clothed as a Proposition) becomes a significant factor to drive voters to specific candidates.
  • Caste-based. Traditional wisdom in India is that the electorate is caste-driven, to a very large degree. Our surveys have consistently reported the complete opposite, but survey-theorists will tell you that that's because people are not comfortable telling you that they vote by caste, so they pick something else in the survey. It is also true that the political parties make a big deal about this, choosing candidates from the same caste against in a given constituency.
  • Patronage-based. Particularly in semi-urban and rural areas, "powerful" politicians establish a network of patronage, through everything from granting contracts to paying a visiting farmer a little bit of cash. This pays off at the hustings, since the recipient's "gratitude" overwhelms even the most heinous behaviour of the candidate.
Yes, these are the major reasons, but I think the most important reason comes out of the lacuna that Karthik has pointed out: people vote for the winner. The way I see it, people say they voted for the winner because, in the absence of the reasons above, they want to vote for the candidate that they believe will win. And this is a fact that politicians know very well, hence their strutting in public, staking claims of popularity and "winnability" well beyond the realms of possibility. Seasoned politicians know that they need to be seen as the winner, to be the winner. And this is borne out in personal discussions for all of us, too: people regularly reject candidates with the comment "Oh, but s/he can't win", as if that decides the reason to vote for someone.
So there you have it: you want to win an election? Be seen as the winner!

Saturday 29 March 2014

The way our data is organized

This post is specifically for people who are looking at either the detailed survey data or at least the Constituency-level summaries of our data. So if you're not one of those serious data-monkeys, begone!

OK, now that only the true believers are here, let me first talk about the CSV. The CSV is a complete representation of all the data collected on a given survey form (you can see a template in English here). Here's a brief explanation:
  • The data begins with a set of demographics - location type, gender, etc.) and each row has the actual selection of the respondent, as seen on the form.
  • The data then goes on to show information about the voter's preferences in terms of whom s/he will vote for, why, etc.
  • Thereafter comes the most important part: the importance and performance relating to each issue, in in two sets of columns. For example, the first issue that someone could  respond to is "Agricultural loan availability". In the CSV, you will see a column marked "I: 24 1 Agricultural loan availability", followed by one marked "P: 24 1 Agricultural loan availability". The I: 24... columns carry the original selection of the respondent: Low, Medium or High. The P: 24... columns, again, are the original response and they carry values of Bad, Average or Good.
  • After the selection columns, there are some "control" columns, including a unique ID for each record.
  • After the control columns, to make calculations easier, we've added numerical translations of the selections: Low becomes 1, Medium - 2 and High - 3. So also, on the Performance side, Bad becomes 1, Average - 2 and Good - 3. There are such translation columns for every pair of issue-related Importance and Performance columns.
  • Following the calculation base columns, we have Scores for each Issue. The Score for an issue is calculated as Issue * Performance * 10 / 9, to get all numbers on a "base" of 10.
  • After the last Score (Traffic congestion), we have an Average Score, calculated using only non-zero values (therefore ignoring issues that the respondent has not responded to).
  • Finally, we have a WealthIndex, a numerical representation of the assets that the respondent owns (taken with points for cattle, TV, motorobike and car, all of which appear in the Demographics section of the record).
That's about the CSV. The other online chart that you can look at is the Constituency Summaries that you can find here. The chart has four tabs. The first three (surprisingly named Issues, Performance and Scores!) are summaries of the columns from the CSV, but separated into their own sheets for eay assessment. For example, if you want to see what the newspapers and TV channels have been carrying as numbers for each Constituency, you can look at the Performance tab. If you want to see what we at Daksh think is the way the MP has done, look at the Scores tab. And the Issues tab will tell you what the issues are in each Constituency (although you'll have to copy out the issues in the header and their scores and then sort them as you see fit). The last tab is a summary of the Issues, Performance and Scores at a National level, averaging each element. This tab therefore provides a National backdrop to compare local issues, performance and scores with.
Hope this helps. If you have questions, please feel free to comment below and we'll respond as quickly as we can.

Friday 28 March 2014

Jobs, Please

The DAKSH-ADR Survey 2014 reached over 2 lakh respondents across the country from various backgrounds. We asked people to identify and rate the issues that are important to them when they vote in an election. Across geographical, gender, wealth, age, caste and religious divides, the top issue was the need for better employment opportunities. This got an average score of 8 out of 10 in our survey.  The near unanimity on better employment opportunities being an important consideration marks a clear shift from the “bijli, sadak, paani” approach of the 1990’s. While “bijli, sadak, paani” still rank very high because of the poor governance in the country, the ascendancy of employment as an issue in elections (at least in the minds of the people) is an important factor.
Now it is up to the political parties to explain how they are going to create better employment opportunities. It is not good enough to say that they will create better opportunities, we need to hear concrete ideas from them. If Mr. Modi has really generated better employment in Gujarat, then we need to hear from him how he achieved it and how he can replicated the model in other parts of the country. And unlike better roads, a mere reduction in corruption in the labour department will not generate better employment opportunities.
The Congress’ manifesto released earlier this week promises creation of 100 million new jobs- great, but how? There is no answer to this. I am sure Mr. Modi and the BJP will promise more without any details of how they will achieve it.  So, let’s hope we hear some new ideas, soon. Else, we are in for another round of lots of promises, no delivery and consequent disappointment.

Thursday 27 March 2014

The top and the bottom of the survey

With the MP survey results coinciding with my son's exams, I guess it's not surprising that my thoughts turn to how our MPs have scored :). And overall, I must say it's a pretty poor showing across the board. I did some quick analysis on the top and bottom scoring 20 MPS. Here are some interesting things that popped out.

Top 20:

  • Only ONE MP has scored an A (80 per cent +).
  • The top 20 are the only ones that have scored a first class (60 percent +).
  • There was only one MP from North India. The rest are from South, Eastern and Western India.
  • Kerala and Maharashtra share the top spot with 5 MPs each. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Odisha have two each. Delhi, Goa, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal round out the top 20 with 1 each.
  • There are 10 MPs from the Congress, 4 from the Shiv Sena, 3 from the BJP, 2 from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and one from the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC). 
  • Considering that Shiv Sena has only 10 MPs in the Lok Sabha, it is extremely creditable that they have 4 MPS in the top 20. BJD has 14 MPs and AITC has 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha, but have 2 and 1 MP respectively, in the top 20 list. So the smaller, regional parties definitely seem to be doing a better job at managing their constituencies.
  • Congress has 178% more MPs than the BJP (200 Congress MPs to 112 from BJP). But in the top 20, the Congress has 333% more MPs than the BJP (10 Congress MPs to 3 from BJP).
  • For me personally the sad thing was that there was not a single female MP in the top 20.
Moving on to the bottom of the pile...


Bottom 20:

  • The most astonishing thing is that only two states figure in this list: Punjab (and Chandigarh) and Madhya Pradesh.
  • There are 10 MPs from Punjab, 9 MPs from Madhya Pradesh and one from Chandigarh.
  • Shiromani Akali Dal truly is SAD. With just 4 MPs in the Lok Sabha, 3 of them figure in the bottom 20. It's the only one amongst the regional parties that figures here.
  • The BJP has 4 MPs in the list and the Congress has 13 MPs in the list.
  • And very sadly, 6 female MPs figure in this list.
If my son's class had scored as badly as this class of MPs has done, I'm sure that the evaluators would have had lots to say. I wonder what we the evaluators (voters) will have to say once the 2014 exam season begins.