LIMBS: The right legwork for efficient govt litigation

LIMBS stands for Legal Information Management and Briefing System, and is a ministry of law and justice initiative. The idea is to reduce government litigation—to make government litigation more efficient is a better statement.

I have written about LIMBS in the past (  LIMBS stands for Legal Information Management and Briefing System, and is a ministry of law and justice initiative. The idea is to reduce government litigation—to make government litigation more efficient is a better statement. At the moment, this is about civil cases, though there is no reason why the idea cannot be extended to criminal cases. At the moment, this is about the Union government, though there is no reason why the idea cannot be extended to state governments. LIMBS is still a work in progress. Earlier, information about cases involving 64 ministries/departments was scattered in different places, typically, in the form of physical files. That information is now available on a single platform, in electronic form. (I did say work in progress. Therefore, not every ministry/department is part of LIMBS yet). In June 2017, 135,060 cases were part of LIMBS. That number is now 265,272. This does not mean that the Union government’s proclivity towards litigating has suddenly shot up. It is just that LIMBS coverage is increasing. Once data are available in this form, several questions can be asked. What types of cases are these? How old are they? What is the financial implication? Can cases be clubbed? Can some disputes be settled outside the court system? Why did the government lose a case? Those 265,272 cases are scattered across 2,107 courts and 15,332 advocates. Should more resources/attention be devoted to certain courts? Is distribution of cases even across advocates? What is the track record of specific advocates?

LIMBS is meant to improve the Union government’s handling of cases. Its purpose is not that of facilitating research and/or reportage. Some data will no doubt be in the public domain, but not everything. An advocate, an arbitrator, or a new user from a ministry/department can log in. “A ministry’s designated nodal officer authenticates the user’s credentials and only authenticated users are allowed to access the website and enter the case details.” Perhaps, I should add another quote. “To deal with contempt cases, LIMBS assigns highest priority to such cases which may cause unfavourable conditions for higher officials…SMS prompts are sent to concerned officials for a timely action.” Most cases, and most contempt cases, are against railways. Where are these cases? I will give rough orders of magnitude—92,000 in tribunals, 71,000 in high courts, 22,500 in Supreme Court, 13,000 in district and session courts and 8,000 in civil courts. What types of cases are these? About 48,000 are service matters, 39,000 are writ petitions, 24,000 are labour matters and 10,000 are commercial matters; 146,000 are ongoing cases, 17,000 are appeals and 14,000 are affidavits. Nearly 103,000 cases have no financial implication, 20,000 have less than `1 lakh, 68,500 between `1-20 lakh, 15,000 between `20 lakh-2 crore, 3,800 between `2-100 crore and 190 have more than `100 crore; 32,500 cases have been pending for more than 10 years, 58,000 for between 5-10 years, 50,000 for between 3-5 years, 82,000 for between 1-3 years and 4,500 for less than a year. Since there is no open access, not yet, you will have to accept my word about the veracity of these numbers.

The then prime minister addressed a conference of chief ministers and chief justices in September 2004. “One way of reducing the load on courts is to reduce the quantum of cases that come to the courts. A sample survey conducted in Karnataka found that in 65% of civil cases, the government was a litigant, sometimes on both sides. Government litigation crowds out the private citizen from the court system. Much of this government litigation is in the form of appeals and this survey again found that 95% of government appeals fail. In a way, they are appeals that should not have been made in the first place. In 1994, our government had convened a meeting of law ministers and law secretaries that had resolved that, ‘disputes between the government and public sector undertakings (PSUs), and one PSU and another PSU, ought not to go to courts or tribunals, and that such disputes should be settled between the parties amicably.’ This, unfortunately, has not happened. Our government will now ensure that this decision is effectively implemented. This step, along with a better assessment of which judgments are to be appealed against, would lead to some reduction of cases in courts.” The speech did not mention the year (it was 1993) when National Law School of India University undertook this survey for Karnataka, nor the fact that the survey was restricted to Karnataka High Court alone. Those numbers, dated as they are, need not be valid across courts. Since LIMBS is still a work in progress, anything based on these numbers is tentative.  But, the rate of failure for government appeals is more like 45%, and not 95%.

Technology for LIMBS did not exist in 1994, though it existed in 2004. Nevertheless, in 1994, one could have taken a decision preventing two government entities from litigating against each other.  “This, unfortunately, has not happened.”  In 2004, something like LIMBS could have been developed. “This, unfortunately, has not happened.” While this, still, represents early days, LIMBS has a lot of promise, from advocates getting paid on time to figuring out whether governments should litigate (not just appeals). (In many instances, once you have the facts, you can predict the outcome with a reasonable degree of certitude). It also identifies several petty cases governments can simply drop.

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