Budget 2023 – Looking Forward
It is reassuring that this Budget has its eye on India’s legal system – with over 140 years of common law in its history. With various other incentives and measures being announced, one can expect that India will continue to be, and improve as an attractive investment destination to the world say Shaneen Parikh, Partner & Head - International Arbitration and Akhil Mahesh, Senior Associate, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
Indian courts have historically been beleaguered by a rising number of cases and less than sufficient number of judges. The judiciary is also overburdened by litigation and repetitive appeals from the country's most prolific litigant - the government and its various public sector undertakings, resulting in an ever-increasing caseload and a "tareek pe tareek reputation". Over the last decade, Indian courts have had a distinctly pro-arbitration bias and a reduced tolerance for frivolous challenges to the arbitration process and awards, however, the resultant knock-on effect of the egregious delays has been an extreme reluctance of foreign entities to agree to an Indian seat of arbitration and being wary about their ability to enforce contracts - one of the drivers of ease of doing business in a country.
Recognising that the government has itself been guilty of increasing and causing long drawn out litigations, a key announcement made by the Finance Minister as part of Budget 2023, was for a voluntary settlement mechanism titled “Vivad se Vishwas II” for the settlement of disputes involving government entities in which an arbitral award is subject to a challenge in court. The scheme is envisaged to have some standardised terms, ensuring that there is no worry that fingers would be pointed at a government entity / employee for agreeing to a monetary settlement. Moreover, a conclusion to a litigation would also free up government resources – in terms of time and costs, enabling it to concentrate on operations and business. From the perspective of an investor / claimant, the scheme could well lead to expedient recoveries under awards and a decluttering of courts with arbitration assignments.
In terms of technology, India’s e-Courts Project was inaugurated in 2005 with the aim of implementing technological solutions for greater access to speedy justice for all. The lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, highlighted a greater need for technology-enabled aids to ease and efficiently manage the courts’ caseload. It was also realised that an exponential change was necessitated to the current processes to bring the administration and dispensation of justice closer to the people. A brilliant example was the first-ever livestreaming of Constitution Bench cases by the Supreme Court.
The Finance Minister’s announcement of a further investment of INR 70 billion into the e-courts project highlights the government’s commitment towards bolstering the existing judicial infrastructure. Evidently, the government recognises the need to promote digitisation and optimisation across all levels of the judiciary. It is hoped that these measures will lead to a more efficient and speedier (if not speedy) disposal of cases and ensure access to justice, for all.
It is reassuring that this Budget has its eye on India’s legal system – with over 140 years of common law in its history. With various other incentives and measures being announced, one can expect that India will continue to be, and improve as an attractive investment destination to the world.
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