An IAS officer has found a solution to India’s pendency problem — court summons via SMS

Saurabh Sharma July 3, 2017 5 min

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Even as industries across the world are dreading technology replacing humans in jobs, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) police department is excited about implementing a software that will relieve its personnel of the task of serving court summons to parties in a legal case.

As law news website Bar & Bench first reported, the authorities will soon start using a software called Saakshi (Hindi for “witness”) to send summons to people via text messages. The Summon Management System is already being used in Hardoi district of UP in a pilot project. The software seeks to do away with the current modus operandi, in which a policeman delivers a hard copy of the summons to the person concerned.

Saakshi Summon Management System seeks to do away with the current modus operandi, in which a policeman delivers a hard copy of the summons to the person concerned, by sending summons to people via text messages  

This could very well be the answer to India’s pendency problem. The country’s district courts have a whopping 2.8 crore pending cases, of which 58.8 lakh are in UP alone, according to a Supreme Court of India report that cited figures for 2015-2016. Police personnel, pressed for time, often do not deliver summons to the parties concerned, which means the witnesses and others don’t show up in court, resulting in the case getting adjourned.

For the UP police department, which is running at half-strength — 50% of its 3.6 lakh posts are vacant — the software will eliminate an onerous task from their to-do list and ensure parties in a case receive summons on time. With only 1.8 lakh personnel to maintain law and order in a state of 21 crore people, serving summons naturally assumes low priority.

Saakshi is the brainchild of Hardoi district magistrate Shubhra Saxena, who developed the software in just one month with some help from the NIC

Saakshi has a simple, intuitive interface. The authorised person has to log into a website and enter information like the case number and hearing date along with contact details of the persons involved, and their district and jurisdictional police station. Once the details are provided, summons are delivered instantly to all parties to the case and their local police station via SMS alerts.

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Saakshi is the brainchild of Hardoi district magistrate Shubhra Saxena. An IIT Roorkee graduate and all-India UPSC topper of the 2009 batch, she developed the software in just one month, with some help from the NIC. She told FactorDaily she put in an hour’s work every day to complete the project and that her background in technology proved helpful. The only expense was on an SMS gateway, which cost Rs 25,000.

Call of the times

On June 16 this year, Saxena made a presentation on the software in front of UP chief secretary Rahul Bhatnagar. Impressed by its premise and promise, he passed orders that it be put to use in all the districts of the state. Saxena wants Saakshi to send WhatsApp messages too, but that will take time.

“Appearance of witnesses at the earliest ensures that the testimony is accurate and there are fewer chances of it being influenced by money, dominance or power” — Shubhra Saxena, district magistrate, Hardoi, UP  

Manish Mishra, superintendent of police (SP), Hardoi, is optimistic about the software’s efficacy. “At present, the software is in the testing mode. We can only comment once it’s implemented in full swing. However, it looks very effective and will bring down pressure on police people in executing summons,” he said.

A view of the dashboard of Saakshi Summons Management System
A view of the dashboard of Saakshi Summons Management System
Details like the case number and hearing date, along with contact details of the persons involved, and their district and jurisdictional police station need to be entered into the system
Details like the case number and hearing date, along with contact details of the persons involved, and their district and jurisdictional police station need to be entered into the system
Once the details are uploaded, the Saakshi Summon Management System generates text messages to deliver summons to parties concerned

Hardoi’s district information officer Amit Singh, an employee of National Informatics Centre (NIC, the Indian government’s e-governance arm), demonstrated the software to FactorDaily by issuing a summons in a 22-year-old case. FactorDaily called up a witness in the case, Dr S D Singh, a former senior consultant with Hardoi district hospital, to check if he had indeed received the text message, and he confirmed he had.

The medical officer, who’s often asked to appear in court to share injury/medical details of persons involved in various cases, said he has received many summons in his 36 years of service, but this was the first time he received it electronically. “I was surprised to receive the summons as a text on my mobile. Initially, I thought that someone is trying to fool me or it is a prank, but I believed it when I contacted the SP’s office,” he said.

However, he felt the SMS should’ve provided more details. Pointing out that the case dated back to 1995, he said the case number alone wasn’t enough to help him recall the incident. After much pondering, he recollected it was about some college boys who had severely injured each other in a violent fight. He was listed as a witness as he had conducted their medical examination. The case has been dragging on for more than 20 years due to non-appearance of the parties involved and/or witnesses in court.

“I was surprised to receive the summons as a text on my mobile. Initially, I thought that someone is trying to fool me or it is a prank, but I believed it when I contacted the SP’s office” — Dr S D Singh, a medical officer who received summons for a 22-year-old-case on SMS  

“Appearance of witnesses at the earliest ensures that the testimony is accurate and there are fewer chances of it being influenced by money, dominance or power,” Saxena said, adding that Saakshi helps detect defaulters who miss hearings regularly.

It was in 2012, while she was serving as a sub-district magistrate in western UP’s Bulandshahar, that Saxena felt the need for such a software to issue summons. The incident that triggered the thought was the issuance of a non-bailable warrant against her for repeatedly ignoring summons to appear in court. She told FactorDaily the preceding summons had never reached her.

“I had to appear in the Allahabad High Court and plead for annulment of the non-bailable warrant. This is when I thought of doing something to remove the manual intervention in the execution of summons,” she said.


Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira Inside images: Saurabh Sharma The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India. Saurabh Sharma is a Lucknow, UP-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.