Judicial Reforms in Bharat- A Common Man’s Perspective

“The US Supreme Court decides about nine cases in a year sitting together while its Indian counterpart handles over 2,600. India had about 19,000 judges, which was ‘grossly inadequate’ for a country of over a billion which had seen an explosion in litigation.” The above words are expressed by CJI T.S.Thakur at a joint conference of chief ministers and high court chief justices in New Delhi on 24th April, 2016. According to National Judicial Data Grid there are 2,19,09,846 cases pending before District Courts across the country as on 4th May, 2016. !!!  Out of this nearly 75 Lakh are civil cases and criminal cases are around 1.44 Crore.

Analysis of the pending cases age wise is as under:

  • 10 years 28%
  • 5-10 years  53%
  • 2-5 years 50%
  • < 2 years 70%

In addition to the above, nearly 45 lakh cases and 0.60 lakh cases are pending in High Courts and Supreme Court respectively.  In all we have around 3 Crore cases that are pending in various courts in Bharat, which is an astronomical figure by any standards.

We have a Supreme Court, 24 High Courts, 600 District Courts in Bharat. Additionally under the District Courts there are Subordinate Courts (Judicial Magistrate of First Class and Second Class) and District Munsiff Courts.

Organisation chart of Bharatiya Judiciary

Civil justice system-

Judicial Reforms Civil Justice Bharat

Criminal Justice System

Judicial Reforms Criminal Justice Bharat

(Source: http://www.ssrana.in/Intellectual%20Property/IP-Enforcement-And-Litigation/IP-Indian-Courts-Structure-in-India.aspx).

In addition to the above, Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 was enacted for establishment of Gram Nyayalayas or village courts for speedy and easy access to justice system in the rural areas of Bharat. However, as against the target of 5,000 village courts there are only 152 that are currently functional.

Budgetary Allocation for Judiciary

The budgetary support to the high courts and other lower courts are provided by the respective state governments. Whereas the budgetary support to the Supreme Court is provided by the Union Government.  Unfortunately there is no scientific or rational method of identifying the quantum of financial resources needed by the judiciary and the annual budgetary allocations to the judiciary by both the Union Government and State Governments happens arbitrarily.

Former Chief Justice of Bharat R.M. Lodha has said, “the negligible budgetary allocation being witnessed since the past few decades is grossly inadequate to meet the requirements of the judiciary such as setting up of new courts and to improve infrastructure to bring down the pendency from a staggering 3.3 crore cases.” “Budget allocation is not even one per cent. It is 0.4 per cent. How do we construct more courts and improve infrastructure for speedy dispensation of justice? We are already overburdened,” he said, referring to the budgetary allocation in the FY 2013-14. Various studies reveal more than 18 States are not even spending 1% of the Budget allocated to Judiciary.

Budget allocations to Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of Bharat:

Capital Budget:

Rs.  455.00 Crores (2007-08)

Rs.  751.00 Crores (2008-09)

Rs.1,394.00 Crores (2009-10)

Rs. 1,631.00 Crores (2010-11)

Rs. 1,432.00 Crores (2011-12)

Rs. 1,050.00 Crores (2012-13)

Rs. 1,103.00 Crores (2013-14)

Rs.    260.60 Crores(2014-15)

Rs.    806.55 Crores (2015-16)

Rs.    900.00 Crores (2016-17)

Expenditure Budget:

Year             Plan outlay            Non-plan outlay     Total  

2014-15           Rs. 955.54                 Rs.   827.22                    Rs. 1782.76 (actuals)

2015-16           Rs. 243.65                 Rs. 2717.00                    Rs. 2855.85 (revised estimates)

2016-17           Rs. 365.00                 Rs. 4199.99                    Rs. 4564.99 (budget)

The 13th Finance Commission had recommended for allocation of Rs.5,000 Crores for the period 2010-15 for developing the infrastructure, whereas the actual amount spent was less than Rs.2,500 Crores. The 14th Finance Commission has recommended Rs.9,749 Crores to the department of justice for upgrading the infrastructure (for the period 2016-20) for speedy disposal of cases and reduction of pending cases. One has to wait and see how much real investment would be spent by the government by 2020. As mentioned above, the government has made budgetary allocation of Rs. 806.55 Crores (2015-16) and Rs. 900.00 Crores (2016-17) so far.

Bharat has a total of 21,598 judges (sanctioned strength till December 31, 2015), which includes 20,502 judges in lower courts, 1,065 high court judges and 31 Supreme Court judges. As per CJI Thakur’s speech on 24th April, 2016, there are six vacancies in the Supreme Court, 432 in the various high courts and 4,432 (as of December 31, 2015) in the subordinate judiciary. More importantly there are currently only 16,513 courtrooms across the country in the lower courts, which means there is a shortfall of 3,989 courtrooms to accommodate full capacity of 20,502 judges.

As per the Law Commission of India (1987 report) the judge-population ratio in Bharat was only 10.5 judges per million population (it is now 12 judges per million) while the ratio was 41.6 in Australia, 50.9 in England, 75.2 in Canada and 107 in the United States. The Commission recommended in 1987 that Bharat required 107 judges per million population. It also suggested that the judge strength could be raised five-fold (to 50 judges per million population) in a period of five years, i.e., by 1992. Unfortunately after nearly three decades, today the judge –population ratio in Bharat is still at an abysmal low level of 12 judges per million population!!! The infrastructure is very low particularly at the lower courts because of lack of effective co-ordination between the high courts and the respective state governments in sharing the information and allocation of adequate financial resources on timely basis.

Adding fuel to the fire, the National Judicial Appointments Commission proposed by the Government for appointment and transfer of judges to the higher judiciary in Bharat has been resisted by the judiciary. Instead, the judiciary has agreed to bring greater transparency in the existing collegium system. This tussle between the legislature and judiciary on NJAC vs Collegium has not sent the right signals to the common man as it is perceived that both the important wings of the government are asserting their independence and supremacy rather than coming together to discuss and resolve the numerous issues through a collaborative and co operative approach. It is in national interest that the vacancies at various levels in judiciary are duly identified and filled up on timely basis without inordinate delay irrespective of the system that is followed- whether collegium or NJAC.

Judicial Calendar – Colonial Hangover?

The common man’s perception that the judiciary enjoys the luxury of vacation during summer and other occasions while the pending cases are piling up like a Himalayan mountain seems to be a fair one. While one has to acknowledge the exceptional role of the judiciary in delivering justice in many crucial cases by passing land mark judgments and protecting the basic rights of the people and ensuring social justice, everyone will agree that pendency of cases for several years has not only delayed justice but resulted in increase in legal costs that have become unaffordable to the common man.

A glance on the calendar of the Supreme Court for 2016 indicates summer vacation- 45 days, Christmas and New Year holidays – 15 days in addition to another 70 days holiday due to Sundays and other festivals (total holidays in the year add up to 130). Similarly, the high courts and lower courts also enjoy nearly 120 – 130 days as holidays in a calendar year. The Law Commission report in 2009 had already recommended reduction of vacation in higher judiciary by at least 10 to 15 days. One would agree that summer vacation and Christmas holidays are the legacy of the colonial rule that the judiciary of Bharat has bequeathed. Considering the 3 crore cases that are pending in various courts across the country it is high time that the honourable judiciary discontinues the colonial practice of summer and Christmas vacations. This will reduce the number of holidays by 50- 60 days to Supreme Court and the High Courts and nearly by 35 days to the lower courts. The judiciary could explore the possibility of working 7 days a week and permitting one third of the staff to take a day off as weekly holiday on three separate days in a week, so that the courts function all the 7 days in the week. This measure would help in bringing down the number of pending cases in a year by almost one third. This does not require any constitutional amendment and a simple gazette notification is enough to carry out this measure. However, this requires the support of Bar Council of India, Bar Associations of Supreme Court, High Courts and District Courts, and it appears that majority of the lawyers are not in favour of this move.

Status of Information Technology in Bharatiya Courts

National Informatics Centre (under Ministry of Information Technology) has taken up the task of computerization in Supreme Court in 1990. Currently the Supreme Court, 18 High Courts and 10 benches are fully computerized.  Similarly NIC has also taken up the computerization of all the District Courts in the country on the lines of the High Courts Computerization Project. However, the outcome so far is not that encouraging since even 26 years after initiating the process of computerization in judiciary we do not have a single e-court till date. The ideal scenario of computerization in our judiciary should facilitate real time sharing of data base and other related information/documents between the Supreme Court, various High Courts,  District Courts and other subordinate courts, with digital signatures where ever required in a secured manner.  It should also lead to a stage where the exchange of information/ documents from various ministries and departments of the government (both Centre and States) and the judiciary are done by internet through secured gateways online and on real time basis as per the requirements of the various cases that are under consideration of the judiciary. This would substantially reduce the time needed for submission of the required documents and running from pillar to post by the parties to the dispute, which presently are done manually that take lot of time and expenditure.

This is not an impossible task if one looks at the banks, railways and post offices in Bharat who have successfully migrated from manual processes to complete automation that provide the services to their customers on line, anywhere and  also any time (by banks and railways). Our NIC is highly capable of achieving this task for the Bharatiya Judiciary and the only constraint appears to be financial resources. This has to be resolved by the judiciary and the government at an early date in public interest and let us hope some good sense will prevail on them to take this initiative forward in a time bound manner in right earnest so that e-courts become a reality in Bharat.

The two major measures suggested above, viz.,(i) working 7 days week and (ii) complete automation of judiciary and exchange of information/documents from various ministries and departments online and creation of e-courts , will substantially reduce the pendency of cases in Bharatiya Courts.

Judiciary gets revenues from – court fees, fines and costs. However these revenues go to the government’s funds. It is high time that judiciary should have a greater say in allocation of funds in the budget by the government rather than going by the adhoc and arbitrary approach of the government that lacks consistency. The Judiciary should have an active role in negotiating with Niti Ayog and Finance Commission in annual budgetary allocations as well as appropriation of its revenues, and there should be a system in place for this. For the High Courts and lower courts a similar system should be in place in the States.  Sathasivam, former Chief Justice of Bharat had in his farewell speech said “Budget allocation for judiciary is a serious concern. In so far as the Supreme Court is concerned, the government is not providing sufficient budget and, time and again, the Chief Justice has to intervene to seek sufficient allocation of Budget.“

Need for better collaboration between 3 arms of government

In response to the CJI Thakur ‘s comments at the joint conference of chief ministers and high court chief justices in the capital on 24th April, 2016 the Prime Minister Mr.Narendra Modi has agreed to discuss the issues with CJI and his senior colleagues for effective resolution of the same and let us hope this happens sooner than later.

The three limbs of government viz., legislature, judiciary and executive have certain defined roles and responsibilities under the constitution. These three wings are sovereign only within the spheres allotted to each one of them under the constitution. They also act as check on one another since they have a collective responsibility under the constitution to safeguard the basic rights of the citizens. The constitution guarantees the basic rights of the citizens and assures the remedies there for. People’s right to access to justice is a fundamental human right as set out in Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says “Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him/her by the constitution or by law.” Therefore, the judiciary has a moral responsibility to ensure that justice is delivered without delay since justice delayed is justice denied.


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  2. http://indiancourts.nic.in/courts/itinjud.html)/
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  4. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2016-04-25/news/72598632_1_high-court-chief-justices-judge-population-ratio-two-crore-cases).
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  6. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/half-a-century-later-supreme-court-cuts-its-summer-break/)
  8. http://www.ssrana.in/Intellectual%20Property/IP-Enforcement-And-Litigation/IP-Indian-Courts-Structure-in-India.aspx.

About the Author

B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Ex Senior Banker, Management and Financial Consultant, Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. E mail- [email protected]