judiciary

Is Judiciary the Sole Entity to be blamed for the Increasing Pendency of Cases?

By Kamana Divya Sree (DSNLU, Vizag)

Whenever the question “Why the number of pending cases in India is increasing day by day?” arises, many fingers come up pointing the judiciary. But if we dive deep down the problem we can find out how the State has a more prominent role in the increasing pendency of cases. In this article, I further try to shed light on the number of cases pending in Indian courts including the Supreme court, High Court, and subordinate courts, the important reasons for increasing pendency of cases, and the underlying role of the state in these reasons.

Talking about the number of cases pending in Indian courts, As of 4th December 2020, there are 64,426 pending cases before the Supreme Court, out of which 20.14% of the cases equating to 12,974 cases are not ready for hearing because the preliminaries are not completed. As of 28th December 2020, 56,36,452 cases are pending in all the High Courts of The Country. As of  28th December 2020, a total of 36,561,355 cases are pending in the subordinate courts of India.

When the discussion of the pendency of court cases arises, the first thing that comes to mind is the lack of a sufficient number of Judges. Keeping in mind the rising backlog of cases, The Government of India had increased the sanctioned strength of judges in the Supreme Court from 31 to 34 including the Chief Justice of India in 2019. But as of December 1st, 2020, out of the sanctioned strength of 34 only 30 Judges are working and the remaining 4 are vacancies. According to the data available under the National Judicial data grid, out of the total sanctioned strength of 1,079, only 665 judges are working in high courts, leaving behind 414 vacancies. The scene with District and Subordinate courts is much worse than expected. As against the sanctioned strength of 24,203, only 19,171 judges are working. The huge number of vacancies plays a major role in the pending cases. The problem of pendency is rapidly increasing. The urgent need for increasing the strength and immediate filling up of vacancies should be emphasized. Moreover, the working judges are overburdened with the rising petitions and the slow disposal rate. In some courts due to the Unavailability of Court staff, Judges are bound to work more than the allotted work.  It has often been suggested that the strength of judges Should be increased every time the need for clearing the overloaded case docket arises. But when the existing capacity of judges is not being filled and a huge number of vacancies are arising, what is the use of increasing the sanctioned strength?

Lack of infrastructure is one of the underlying reasons that trigger the pendency of cases. In an interview, Justice Dipak Mishra, former chief justice of India, said that the lack of facilities for judges, litigants, and court workers is the main cause of the litigation pending. There are no basic amenities for subordinate courts, such as adequate washroom facilities, canteen facilities, parking, advocate library, advocate seating facilities, and drinking water facilities. If we look at the trail rooms in the district or subordinate courts, they are too small to be able to stand in them for 5-6 people. How does the court carry out its work? Much of the work being performed in court is on paper in the 21st century of technological means. Courts can function with the developing society, but the government is not able to deliver the court with amenities such as a computer, equipment, internet facility, etc. If we look at the courthouse, it looks like it was a century old, with these old courthouses, there is a need for a government to develop the new court premises. All the requisite services for judges, advocates, and court personnel, etc, should be included in the current courthouse. There is a need for the government to recognize that the courts’ infrastructure is the barrier that prohibits the judges and court workers from doing their job effectively. For the creation of the courts, the government should provide funding. Land and building availability for court construction, the computerization of the court building, complete establishments of E-courts must be achieved to boost the court’s infrastructure. The honorable apex court of India in the case of Imtiyaz Ahmed v. the state of U.P directed the law commission to set up additional subordinate courts to eliminate delays and speedy disposal of cases.

A judge delivers a decision in which one side will win and the other will lose. If they are not happy with the verdict delivered, the party losing the case will go to the higher court to appeal. Provisions for appeal are made to appease the party or to check fairness, but litigants have made it a means of making more money. An appeal has been made for every verdict arising in the lower court. If the parties win the case, it’s fine if not the party will go for an appeal. That’s why the higher judiciary has a rising number of pendencies. High courts are burdened with such cases.  The overall sum of an appeal depends on the decision issued by the judge, which is inferior to the superior court.

N R Narayana Murthy, Co-founder of Infosys once stated “ We have to modernize our archaic and vaguely drafted laws, train our bureaucracy in drafting precise, concise unambiguous and easily-understandable laws, train our law students, court associates of judges and entry-level judges better and introduce tools to improve the work productivity in courts”. There is a dire need of amending or repealing the existing archaic and vague laws because they require continuous interpretations of the court which consumes a lot of time and also affects the judiciary economically. Wrong interpretations of such laws in the lower judiciary result in appeals that waste the time of both judiciary and the parties involved. The ambiguity in Sedition laws and contempt cases explain my stand.

The backbone of the pending litigation is the number of cases increasing day by day and the pace of disposal of the subordinate court is very low, due to the smaller number of judges, the absence of judges, the trial phase of a case, the strike of lawyers, the regular shift of judges, etc. in subordinate courts. The only remedy is that the court must avoid the unnecessary filing of lawsuits in the courts and allow legal solutions such as ADR, Lok Adalats, plea bargaining, etc. to settle the issue. Compared to the filing of a lawsuit, if the rate of disposition of a case is high, the pendency issue will be solved immediately.

After knowing the reasons for the increasing number of pending cases, it is important to know how the role of the state in these reasons. As discussed earlier absence of a sufficient number of judges is the major contributor to a large number of pending cases. But when the question “why aren’t the vacancies being filled?” arises, the finger is pointed out towards the State.  

While appointing the judges in the Higher Judiciary, there is a long process to be followed. Every judge of the Supreme court and High court is appointed by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Appointments Commission. The delays on the sides of both The President and The National Judicial Appointments Commission contribute to the vacancies. Compared to the higher judiciary, the judicial vacancy in the lower judiciary is a huge concern as it amounts to 5,032 as stated earlier. Subordinate court judges are appointed by the Governor of the states after consulting the Chief Justices of respective High Courts. However, the seats are vacant because the procedure of appointment has been delayed or the notification for the process of initiating appointment has not yet been issued. The apex Court in the case of Malik Mazhar v. U.P. Public Service Commission held that the process of recruitment, which starts from the date of issue of advertisements and culminates with the date of appointment, should be completed in 153 days for junior civil judges and 273 days for district judges. But this order hasn’t been implemented effectively by the state. The delay on behalf of the state is because of lack of adequate infrastructure to conduct exams, low man-power, lack of meritious candidates, lack of awareness e.t.c. Moreover, the stress-filled working culture of the judiciary, fewer holidays,  low salaries, perks, personal freedom e.t.c are the contributing factors that are leading the aspirants to stay away from the judiciary. Young aspirants are of the view that the scope of earning in the Judiciary is too low as compared to being an advocate and hence many aren’t interested to join the judiciary. 

The next most important cause of pendency is the Lack of Infrastructure. Lower judicial courts are facing pathetic conditions with no proper courtrooms, lack of washrooms, drinking water facilities e.t.c. There is a persistent lack of infrastructural development in the judiciary, especially the subordinate courts. The state has to release funds and take appropriate steps to ensure the proper availability of all required infrastructure in the courts.

Making Legislations is one of the primary responsibilities of the State. But due to some vague and broad terms used by the state, the legislations are being subjected to repeated interpretations which are the most time-consuming and are leading to the delay of the cases. Moreover, some legislations which are outdated are not yet being repealed burdening the judiciary.

Is the State responsible for the increasing Pendency?

Definitely yes. The state has the role of an engine that has to establish the path for the judiciary to reduce the pendency of the cases. But till now the engine has been running too slow and as a result, the cases that are to be disposed of are clogging up. Its high time the engine, that is the state has be subjected to repairs to facilitate the judiciary to transport the cases from the pending stage to the disposed of stage and subsequently reducing the number of cases.                                                                              

Way Forward

The Indian judiciary has been suffering from the problem of pendency for a quite long time. The Judiciary shouldn’t be the only entity to be blamed for the pendency, the state has a role too. Evidently, the state has a much dominant role in the increasing pendency of cases. To tackle this issue the state should come forward with effective methods. It should reduce the time taken in appointing Judicial officers. Should develop the infrastructure of the courts to facilitate proper function without any hindrances. The state must ensure the use of technology to reduce the work of the judges in order to reduce pendency. The existing mechanisms that have been established to resolve the problem like Alternate Dispute Resolution, Lok Adalats, E-courts mission should be provided with sufficient funds to ensure proper functioning.  More number of Fast Track Courts and Gram Nyayalayas should be established. The state has to follow adequate measures as fast as possible or else the pendency would remain as an unsolved puzzle.

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