innovations

Search engine for Indian law

Indian Kanoon is a search engine designed to provide the most relevant Indian laws, court judgments, parliamentary debates and others regarding a query.

It integrates various legal resources and automatically determines the most relevant legal resources. As a result, people can quickly determine the standing law of the land on any issue and empowers them to seek justice. Indian Kanoon brings legal knowledge and understanding to the doorstep of common people and such knowledge is no longer exclusive.

1. Can you briefly describe the innovation, the problem it tries to solve and why is it necessary

India prides herself as the largest democracy in the world. There are three broad pillars of Indian democracy: the legislatures who make laws, the executives who enforce laws and the judiciary that interprets laws. The laws regulate a number of activities like criminal offense, civil cases, taxation, trade, social welfare, education and labor rights.
Even when laws empower citizens in a large number of ways, a significant fraction of the population is completely ignorant of their rights and privileges. As a result, common people are afraid of going to police and rarely go to court to seek justice. People continue to live under fear of unknown laws and a corrupt police.
Indian Kanoon tighly integrates central laws, court judgments, constituent assembly debates, parliamentary debates, law commission reports and law journals in a way that allows automatic determination of the most relevant clauses and court judgments. These innovations allow people to easily obtain the standing law of the land on any issue. It allows people to browse across the legal corpus very easily that significantly simplifies how court judgments have interpreted a law section or how a law section has been examined by a journal paper or how a constitutional article was debated in the constituent assembly.

2. What makes your innovation unique?

The Government of India took active efforts to present all laws along with their amendments at indiacode.nic.in and all court judgments at judis.nic.in. Similar efforts have been taken up by other privately owned websites.

Most High Court websites in India contain court judgments only after the year 2000. The private websites, which are comprehensive, are all behind paywalls and cater to the lawyers rather than the common people. Indian Kanoon integrates data from a number of sources (that includes Government websites) to provide the comprehensive court judgments and laws to the people without any paywall or any restrictions. It further integrates with the Supreme Court of India and all high court websites to provide a real-time fresh judgments to the people.

Beside providing a comprehensive and fresh Indian legal data source to the people, it also provides a state of art search functionality. Indian Kanoon also brings in a number of technological innovations that addresses the problems faced by the common people. The first problem is that acts are very large and in most scenarios just a few section of laws are applicable. Finding most applicable sections from hundreds of pages of law documents is too daunting for common people. Secondly, laws are often vague and one needs to see how they have been interpreted by the judicial courts. Currently, the laws and judgments are separately maintained and to find judgments that interpret certain law clauses is difficult.

Indian Kanoon removes these structural problems breaking law documents into smallest possible clause and by integrating law/statutes with court judgments. A tight integration of court judgments with laws and with themselves allows automatic determination of the most relevant clauses and court judgments.

3. What triggered the development of the innovation?

I was quite pleased to find law information publicly available on the judis and the indiacode. However, it was too difficult to look for anything on these websites and so I started building tool sets to play with law data. At a certain point I felt that integration of these small software pieces will be very interesting. I was still skeptic as to whether search on law documents meant anything to common people who do not know the law jargon. In any case I integrated the tool sets into a search engine and got pleasantly surprised whenmany of my common queries were well answered. So I deployed it as a publicly available service, called it Indian Kanoon and fortunately many people have found it useful over time.

4. Which persons and organisations were involved in the development and what role did they play?

After integrating 100K court judgments from judis and roughly 1K central statutes, I announced it publicly. Till that time other than me no one else was involved. After the announcement in January 2008, a number of people involved in Indian law helped me out in identifying data sources and what they mean. These include Shamnad Basheer (Professor in NUJS, Calcutta), Prashant Iyengar (Professor in Jandal Law school), Tarunabh Khaitan (Oxford Law College) and Lawrence Liang (Alt Law Bangalore). They helped me in various stages in advisory role while Indian Kanoon integrated more and more data sources.

5. What kind of resistance have you encountered and how have you overcome it?

I have got some cease and desist letters from people whose business interest got hurt by the arrival of Indian Kanoon. I took advise from my mentors (stated above) on what to do with them. They explained to me the nuances of contract law, copyright law etc and how it can affect me. They also advised me on how to approach these problems. I worked on them and things have turned fine till now.

6. How did you make the goals realistic and attainable, and at what time will which quick wins be available?

I keep adding functionality to Indian Kanoon in four dimensions: comprehensiveness (adding more data sources), freshness (integrating a live feed), relevance (general search improvements) and new functionalities for browsing. I plan my set of features and discuss with mentors on the relative importance of them. Finally work on them and release to the website for general people consumption.

7. Will the innovation have an effect on other organizations in the chain and if that is the case, how will it affect them?

Indian Kanoon open sources a number of important components. For example, the crawler that it uses to refresh the database is opensourced http://code.google.com/p/judis-re/ It will help brewing up a number of derivative legal services.

8. How was the development funded and what were reasons for the financing organisation?

The entire operation has run from my own pocket till now.

9. Can you name 3 to 5 characteristics of the innovation that are most essential to make it work?

  1. Automatic determination of the most relevant court judgment, law section, parliamentary debate and journal articles.
  2. Integration of judgments with statutes that enables easy browsing between judgments and the applicable law sections.
  3. Reverse engineering of court websites to provide a fresh set of judgments on a daily basis.
  4. Integration of data from a number of sources to provide the comprehensive set of legal documents for India.
  5. State of art search functionality to provide relevant documents with in a second.

10. How do you measure whether it is a successful innovation?

Indian Kanoon is not a subscription based website and is not moneitzed. So there is no revenue stream. However it is currently used by three quarter of a million people in a month with over 3 million page-views. In past year the traffic on the website has increased by almost 10 times.

11. How many people or organisations benefit from this innovation now?

See above.

12. How many people or organisations could potentially benefit from it now or in the future?

Well considering the Indian population of over a billion people, future is anybody's guess. The innovations brought up by Indian Kanoon in law search should definitely be implemented to simplify law search in other parts of the world.

13. Can you quantify the financial benefits?

None yet to me.

14. Is the innovation financially viable and sustainable and if yes, how?

I am the only developer for Indian Kanoon and the monthly expenditure of running it is with in USD. 200 a month. So I have kept the cost really low to be run from my own pocket till I monetize the website to get more developers.

15. Did you receive any recognition?

I received the award for one of the “Top Indian Innovator below the age of 35” in March 2011 from the Technology Review, India.

16. What lessons did you learn along the way that could be useful to others?

A simple idea can provide benefit to a lot of people. However, there is a lot of hard work involved in taking the idea to its full glory.

Nominee of Successful innovations 2012

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