DOES INDIA HAVE THE BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE FOR E-COURTS? PART-I

[This Blog is dedicated to the memory of Late Hon’ble Justice G C Bharuka (June 15, 1941- March 15, 2018). I am fortunate to have known and interacted with this pioneer who set up the e-committee for automation of all courts. An early adopter of technology in his office as a lawyer, he was deeply passionate about bringing technology to the Indian Judiciary. He also helped in automation of courts in various other countries as an expert consultant.]

As we progressed in the simulation exercise of paperless courts, it quickly dawned upon us that we were stretching the available internet infrastructure of lawyers in Patna and Ranchi. To enable lawyers to argue from home, this will need to change. Each lawyer will need access to broadband withy speeds not experienced before. We decided to invite an expert to talk to us. Mr. Binodanand Mishra, Advocate, Patna High Court connected us to Mr. Ashok Jha, GM (Technical), BSNL, to speak on the issue in one of the sessions on 18.04.2020.

State of E-connectivity of Courts

The Courts in India have been implementing the e-courts project since 2004. The objective of the project was to connect all the courts with internet and have all the data of the courts accessible online. The first phase of the project has been completed and the second phase is in an advanced stage of completion. To this end an order was placed for connecting all courts with internet of speeds of either 10 MBPS or 100 MBPS. There are 39 high court complexes in India and 3219 District and Taluka Court complexes in India. Out of these, work order was issued, in May 2018, to BSNL for establishing Wide Area Network connecting 2992 Court complexes. This will provide providing MPLS connectivity to the court complexes. Some of these connections have been provided by the Radio Frequency Links and others with Optical Fibre Cable Link. As on 17/4/2020, 2837 links out of total 2992 links (i.e. more than 94% of the work) are commissioned.

Understanding Internet Speeds

Most home or office connections offered by telecom providers for retail customers like lawyers and small offices are asynchronous. This means that upload and download speeds are not same over these connections. Typically, the upload speeds are less and hover around half the download speeds. In fact, today if you ask for assurance of upload speed, your telecom sales person may not be even be able to tell you what that is. This[MC1]  works well for the home consumers, where most data is consumed in downloads, be it music, movies or newspapers or internet sites. Uploads will be limited to submitting responses over the web or e-mails or videocalls. For video content, 0.5 Mbps is good to view standard definition, which may give you an experience similar to old VHS movies. If you are subscribing to Netflix, as per livewire.com, the recommended internet connection speeds to stream content is a minimum of 1.5 Mbps. For standard definition content 3 Mbps is recommended, for High definition content a speed of 4 MBPS and for the best experience, 5 Mbps is recommended. Court proceedings, require a good quality video streaming, as the expressions of the person listening and the witness deposing are considered to be important. So, 4 Mbps download speed connection becomes a reasonable expectation. Similarly, the video content to be uploaded will need to be of the same quality. Thus, for lawyers, as for the courts and the clients, the increase in videoconferencing for court purposes, the need for good upload speeds is also going to become critical.

Bandwidth Requirements of Video-Conferencing Based Court Ecosystem

Therefore, from a capacity point of view the network carrying the video-conferencing data has to be good and capable of carrying this huge amount of data. Advocates’ Associations in each court premises will need similar bandwidth. The prosecution offices and the legal aid clinic will also need will need the same. Most importantly, the best backbone infrastructure can be subverted by the last mile speeds at the customer end. So, good internet will not be the only requirement. Good hardware and a good modem will be as critical in a consistent and smooth functioning of video-conferencing based courts. It will be important for the users to be educated about the need for keeping their own equipment up to speed, literally. For example, use of LAN cables for connecting systems instead of WIFI may be useful, especially in lower network-speed areas. A good processor speed of the computer system being used will be equally critical. Knowing about modems, their strengths and weaknesses will be also important. The users must know about the “best fit” or should have easy access to technical advice at the time of purchasing equipment.

To be Continued in Part-II.