Bharatiya Judiciary at Snail’s Pace

Few days ago the current Chief Justice of Bharat Mr. Ranjan Gogoi and in the past his predecessor Justice Dipak Misra have urged the government to take the required steps to support the judiciary in reducing the ever increasing number of the pending cases. Justice Ranjan Gogoi opines that extension of the tenure of the judges will help in addressing this problem.   

According to National Judicial Data Grid as on 16.6.2019, in our country there are 3,12,31,843 pending cases in various courts across the country. Out of this, civil cases pending are 88,40,977 whereas criminal cases pending are to the tune of 2,23,90,695. Further analysis says 43,46,960 cases are pending in various high courts whereas in Supreme Court 58,669 case are pending. In other words, there are 2,68,26,214 cases pending at district courts and subordinate courts in our country.

The main reasons for such a massive number of cases of over three crores pending in our country are-

  1. Absence of timelines for disposal of the cases.
  2. Shortage of staff and judges in the courts.
  3. Lengthy (around three to four months) court annual vacations.
  4. Inability to leverage on the technology.
  5. Shortage of infrastructure.
  6. Large number of land and property disputes.
  7. Lack of financial independence of judiciary.  
Time duration  No. of Pending cases in the country 

Percentage of pending cases 

0-1 year 11475858 36.74%
1-3 years   8365194 26.78%
3-5 years   4275750 13.69%
5-10 years    4577810 14.66%
10-20 years   2070615   6.63%
20-30 years    389862   1.25%
Above 30 years     76754   0.25%

The above data reveals 22.73% of cases are pending for more than 5 years in various courts. Absence of timelines for disposal of the cases is the main reason for this pendency. There is a need to bring the required legislative measures in order to address this issue. 

As per the Law Commission’s 1987 Report, in our country there are 10.5 judges for every one million of population whereas the same is 41.6 in Australia, 50.9 in England, 75.2 in Canada and 107 in America. Even though it has improved to 19 judges for every one million population in 2018 we are still lagging behind the international standards. In lower courts, 5,748 judicial officers’ posts and in high courts 406 posts are yet to be filled up. In the country’s apex court 6 judges posts are to be filled up.   

Automation in Judiciary

The process of computerization initiated in 1990s is going at a snail’s pace and so far only 18 high courts, 10 benches are fully computerized. The lower courts are very much lagging behind in this regard. 

Court Holidays

Bharatiya judiciary enjoys the luxury of 120-130 days court holidays in a year. The judiciary effectively functions only for 8 months annually. It is not an exaggeration to say that even the nursery-going kids do not have that many holidays in Bharat compared to the judiciary. There is a serious need to prune down the number of court holidays and if required the judiciary must function throughout the week with the staff and the judges taking weekly holidays by rotation.   

Infrastructure

In our country, currently there are 16,513 court rooms for the lower courts. Assuming that all the vacancies of judge posts are completely filled up, i.e., the lower courts function with the full strength of 20,502 judges there is a shortage of 3,989 court rooms to accommodate them.

Land and property disputes 

66% of the overall cases in the country comprise of land and property disputes, 10% of the cases consist of family disputes, 8% on financial dues, 3.4% on plea for injunction orders, says a study conducted by Daksh, an NGO. Therefore, when the cases pertaining to land and property disputes are reduced, there is a scope for the overall number of pending cases coming down significantly.

For this to happen the centre and the states must evolve a strategy through collaborative approach since the governments are the parties in majority of land dispute cases pending in the courts.

There is a need to bring legislative measures to fix the total responsibility of verification of the titles of the owners of properties during sale deed registration for transfer of ownership on the government rather than the current practice of just functioning as property registration fees collection centres.

Shortage of Financial Resources

Paucity of financial resources is the main reason for tardy implementation of the total automation and shortage of infrastructure in the judiciary. The central government allocates funds in annual budgets based on the recommendations of the Finance Commission. However, in reality the funds so allocated are either inadequate or underutilized due to various reasons.

Though the judiciary is an independent body under the constitution it does not have financial independence. 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. The centre and the states hardly spend 0.4% of their overall budget amounts to meet the requirements of the judiciary which is grossly inadequate. To address this problem there has to be a legislative obligation on the government to allocate and release the funds on timely basis to the judiciary as per the recommendations of the Finance Commission.

The judiciary should have the freedom to directly negotiate with the Finance Commission for deciding the quantum of funds to be recommended for allocation by the government to the judiciary and the judiciary should have total financial autonomy.

When these measures are initiated one can hope that the number of pending cases in the courts will come down significantly in due course.


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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]