More judges, shorter judgements, punctuality to reduce backlog: Bharadwaj


New Delhi : Long-winded judgements, unpunctual judges and vacancies are among the 29 reasons for the huge backlog of 30 million cases in various courts across the country, Law Minister H.R. Bharadwaj said here Monday.

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“We are grappling with the problem of pendency,” Bharadwaj said during question hour in the Rajya Sabha, all but admitting that the government could do precious little in this.

“I have no power to tell a judge to write a short judgement or this or that,” the minister said, adding: “A judge and his judicial conviction determine a judgement. I can’t whisper in his ear. A judge is left to function on his own.”

Asked about the enforcing authority to ensure judges’ punctuality, Bharadwaj replied: “The quest (for a solution) is on for years. Like parliamentarians, judges should assemble well in time….”

This led to the question being asked again and the minister retorted: “Please do not disturb me. The authority is the chief justice (of the high courts and the Supreme Court). The government has no authority to interfere. We can only tell them about the anguish of parliamentarians (on this issue).”

As for the vacancies, Bhardwaj pointed to the fact that there were 21 high courts across the country and “joint effort by all concerned” was required to fill the empty posts.

Pointing to the Allahabad High Court that had a sanctioned strength of 160 judges but was far short of that number, Bharadwaj said: “I have received recommendations for appointing only 20 judges and even if I accept these, there will still be a vacancy of 70 judges.”

“In our federal structure, we can only politely remind the high courts (to send their recommendations),” the minister contended.

Replying to a supplementary on the steps being taken to deal with the large number of cases relating to dishonoured cheques that were “choking” the judicial system, he admitted that such cases “had, of late, harmed the system”.

“We are rethinking on the issue. The Supreme Court has also said that something needs to be done. We are aware of the problem. A solution is being found. We are also looking at the Supreme Court’s suggestions (on this),” Bharadwaj maintained.

He also said that the system of fast track courts that the previous government had introduced for a five-year period had been extended till 2010.

“By spending Rs.500-600 crore, we have been able to bring down 28 lakh (2.8 million) sessions court cases to 22 lakh (2.2 million),” Bharadwaj pointed out.

Asked why the system of Lok Adalats (people’s courts) had not been made permanent and why this reconciliatory mechanism was dealing with only petty cases, the minister said: “Lok Adalats were not meant to be statutory authorities. They were not intended to become a substitute system of justice.

“The idea was that we did not lose the edifice of the common law system that we inherited (from the British colonial rulers) but improved on the system. Hence, the concept of reconciliation (in the Lok Adalat system).”