India has to suffer the scourge of the world's largest backlog of cases. Over three crore cases are pending in courts across India with 52,000 and 40 lakh cases pending in the Supreme Court and the High Courts only. Even though 1.35 crore cases were disposed off by the subordinate courts last year yet there is a backlog as 1.45 crore new cases were filed in the same year. With ours being one of the most competent judiciary in the world why is our judicial system so overburdened? Could be because of the fact that it takes an average of 15 years to get a case decided or could be because nearly three thousand judicial posts are lying vacant due to delay in recruitments (even the Apex Court and the High Courts are not untouched by this situation) or whether it could be attributed to government’s compulsive inclination of filing appeals in petty cases or can the whole backlogging problem be attributed only to lack of accountability, inefficiency and uneven application of law which favors the wealthy and the well connected?
Backlogging apart from the reasons stated
above is a product of Inadequate judge-population ratio and lack of
infrastructure. Law Commission of India on 31st July, 1987 submitted its 120th
report on Manpower Planning in Judiciary in which it compared India’s judge-population ratio vis-à-vis developed countries and found that the ratio in India is 10.5 judges per million people (lowest in the world) as compared to 41.6 per million people in Australia, 75.2 per million people in Canada, 50.9 per million people in United Kingdom and 107 per million people in United States of America (which was three times less populated than India in 1981 had 25,037 judges as compared to India’s total judge strength of 7,675 at that time). The Central (Government) has failed in its objective to extend the judge strength to 107 judges per million people by the year 2000 as recommended by the Law Commission of India. Even The Honorable Supreme Court of India in All India Judges Association & ors. V. Union of India & Ors. (JT 2003 (3) SC 503) observed that judge strength should be increased by 10 per million people every year for 5 years to meet at least the desired ratio of 50 to a million people. This observation too fell on center's deaf ears.
We certainly need more courts and better infrastructure but it does not seem possible as in the name of so called judicial reforms, the government gives the judiciary, a meager budgetary support of 700 crore (0.078 per cent) in the Tenth five year Plan and 835 crore (0.071 per cent) in the Ninth Five year Plan. Such allocations are too inadequate to meet even the basic requirements of the judiciary.
Besides adequate judge population ratio, taking recourse to Alternate Dispute Resolution Systems (ADR) like Mediation, Conciliation, Arbitration and Medulla should be encouraged. However, ADR’s are still not very popular in India even after more than half a century of statutory recognition first in the form of Arbitration Act, 1940 (repealed) and now the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. ADR’s which have now been made an integral part of our judicial process since 1st July 2002 by amending Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 could be made popular only when there is a coordinated effort on the part of the Government and the Non-Governmental Organizations. There are other solutions too. Exemplary costs should be awarded to avoid frivolous litigation. A Central Legislation on the lines of Vexatious Litigation Prevention Act, 1949 (Madras Act VIII of 1949) should be passed where a habitual non bonafide person can be restricted from filing a case. For petty offences, village courts should be established. To achieve this, institutions like Gram Nayalya (Village Courts) and Gram Parishad (Village Board) should be strengthened. The laxity shown in examining a witness on a given date or not writing judgment in the prescribed time (30 days) or allowing lengthy arguments by the counsel should be disallowed. Only on rare occasions adjournments should be granted. Loopholes in the appeal provisions should be addressed immediately and one appeal policy be adopted. Laws similar to the Speedy Trial Act, 1974 (U.S) should be enacted which fixes standard time requirements for timely prosecution and disposal of criminal cases in district courts. Shift system wherein existing courts with the same infrastructure could be made to function in two more shifts with another judge, first shift (8 am to 10 am) and second shift (6 pm to 8 pm) should be introduced all over India as it was successful in bringing down the number of cases in the state of Gujarat. On the recommendation of the 11th Finance Commission, 1734 Fast Track Courts of Sessions Judge were sanctioned and they have drastically reduced the mounting arrears of cases. Similar scheme should be enacted for Magisterial Courts too. Mobile courts should also be set up which would not only educate the rural folk about their rights and responsibilities but will also provide swift justice and create a feeling of law and judiciary being very close to them. More offences should be made compoundable to bring them within the ambit of Plea bargaining. The above methods can certainly help declog the expanding docket of our overburdened courts.
We are about to reach a tipping point wherein the whole system would collapse sooner or later if some drastic steps are not taken. I do hope that Government will take initiative to revive the confidence of people in the judiciary by devising a way to help cut down the mounting arrears of cases.
The author can be reached at: email@example.com