Judging the judiciary: 32 million pending cases clog up courts

By Parmod Kumar, IANS,

New Delhi : A few days from now, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government will complete two years of a promise that it gave with great fanfare in 2009 — erasing pending cases in all courts of the country by Dec 31, 2012. But as official records show, the graph of cases awaiting adjudication is actually going up.

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According to figures released by the Supreme Court, on Jan 1, 2009, the number of cases pending before various courts, from the apex court to subordinate ones across the country, was 30,333,263.

The number of pending cases in various high courts and subordinate courts on Sep 30, 2010, was 32,170,973. In the apex court alone, the number of cases pending as of June 30, 2011, was 57,179.

Under the charter of the National Mission for Delivery of Justice and Legal Reform (NMDJLR), the UPA government had said all the cases pending as on Jan 1, 2009, would be treated as arrears and would be cleared by December 2012.

But, clearly, the target seems unachievable with just over a year to go.

For the mounting number of pending cases, the legal fraternity, including apex court judges, are one in blaming the lack of funds and infrastructure, insufficient number of judicial officers and frequent adjournments which, according to the apex court, have became “cancerous”.

“It is the lack of infrastructure and the right working conditions that impinge the working of judicial officers and judges and contribute to the delays in dispensing justice and consequent backlog of the pending cases,” senior counsel Ranjit Kumar told IANS.

A study by the National Judicial Academy says the pace at which cases were piling up was much faster than the increase in number of judicial officers. From 1985 to 2003, the study said, there was an 84 percent increase in cases, whereas increase in number of judicial officers was just 40 percent.

However, paucity of funds is a hindrance. In the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12), the allocation for judiciary is just 0.07 percent of the total plan outlay.

It was in the context of this appallingly low budgetary allocation that the apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice A.K. Ganguly once said that “no government (irrespective of its political colour) wants judiciary to be strong”.

Perhaps it was this lack of political will that came in the way of implementation of the 11th Law Commission report recommending a five-fold increase in the strength of judges at all levels.

“For the government, courts are a source of earning revenue and not an object of spending,” eminent jurist Ram Jethmalani told IANS.

Is it because of not so favourable working conditions that the judiciary is not an attractive proposition?

With 291 vacancies, the high courts are operating at 2/3rd of their strength, while district and subordinate courts are operating with 18 percent less than their sanctioned strength with 3,170 vacancies.

With a sanctioned strength of 160 judges, the Allahabad High court is working with a vacancy of nearly 100 judges. Against the sanctioned strength of 75, 58, 42, 68, 40, Bombay, Calcutta, Gujarat, Punjab & Haryana and Rajasthan High Courts have a working strength of 56, 42, 23, 42 and 22 respectively.

In the course of a hearing, Justice G.S. Singhvi said that it was true that senior counsel were not coming forward to join the bar, but motivating them “may be difficult but is certainly not impossible.”

Jethmalani added: “It is true that those who get appointed (as judges) are not the most meritorious and there was favouritism in their appointment.”

“In the UK, Queen’s counsel (equivalent of senior counsel in India) believe that it is their bounded duty to join the Bar and when asked to do so they can’t refuse,” he added.

However, Jethmalani said that prospective judges should be paid well to make them opt for the career.

(Parmod Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])