Judicial Delays - RSTV: In Depth

Rajya Sabha TV progammes like ‘The Big Picture’, ‘In Depth’ and ‘India’s World’ are important for UPSC preparation because they feature discussions of current affairs events and topics which make headlines in the country. The discussions give both the pros and cons of a topic and candidates can take useful insights from them for the civil service exam.


Anchor : Teena Jha

Importance of this Episode:

  • The judiciary is meant to guarantee the protection of citizens’ rights at every instance. But in practice, the Indian justice system is not only erratic, but also extremely slow, resulting in justice being denied to a lot of people. According to the National Judicial Data Grid, over 4.2 million cases were pending in the 24 High Courts of India till this February. The problem prompted the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, to seek suggestions for measures to speedily dispose of cases from the various High Courts across the country.
  • The Chief Justice of India has also recommended that the Arrears Committee of each High Court meet at least once a month- this would help to monitor the progress of all cases. How exactly will this mechanism work? How would it help the Indian Judiciary in overcoming its shortcomings? This episode will try and answer some of these questions.

Analysis by the Experts:

Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra has written to all High Court Chief Justices’, advising them to setup disposal review mechanisms to clear cases on priority. He has also recommended that High Courts’ take stock of cases that are filed and disposed every month in lower courts as well.

Reasons for Judicial Delays:

  • Large number of unfilled judicial vacancies.
  • A long drawn judicial process: This is compounded by the fact that often witnesses are not willing to come forward. The process concerning criminal cases also takes time; this is exacerbated by the fact that it takes time for reports such as medical reports, forensic reports, etc. to be given. There are at times even strikes in Courts that delay the process.
  • Fast growing population
  • Lack of Infrastructure: Chief Justice, Dipak Misra has described that the lack of infrastructure, as one of the causes.
  • Lack of good quality judges
  • Salaries and Perks of judges: If better salaries and better perks are provided, then better lawyers would be interested in becoming judges. Today, the quality of lawyers interested in becoming judges is poor, because of which the quality of judges is down and because of which the justice delivery system is also suffering.
  • An increasing number of states and central laws
  • Mounting number of appeals
  • Shortage of judges in courts
  • Delay in hearing of cases of common civil rights in High Courts
  • Increase in Appeals in High Courts against the orders of the quasi-judicial bodies
  • The Petition for revision and appeal in a case
  • Continuous adjournment
  • Indiscriminate utilisation of writ rights
  • Inadequate system of monitoring cases
  • Difficulties in tracking trials
  • Efforts to prevent a case during hearing
  • Lack of will and capability to decide cases
  • Apart from these, there are delays during pre-trial and trial of cases
  • In the courts, we have a certain number of backlog cases that are listed along with regular matters that are being heard. Thus, the judge doesn’t have enough time to finish hearing regular matters, and thereafter go onto backlog matters. Thus, hearings keep getting adjourned, or they keep getting pushed back into the system.

Some of these have to be addressed by the Government; some of them have to be addressed by the collegium system. Both should work together and ensure that everything is in place. Unfortunately, this kind of a concerted effort is not there. It is because of the lack of that concerted effort, that no substantial progress is being made in the matter of disposal of cases.

Our judiciary is struggling under a tremendous workload. The Chief Justice of India added a new dimension to the debate, stating that lack of basic facilities in the lower courts are increasing the backlog. He has asked High Courts across the country to suggest measures to end the pendency and fill up the vacancies in the subordinate judiciary. The issue that the CJI has spoken about- that of pendency and backlog of cases, is not a new issue. In fact, the Supreme Court, the High Courts have deliberated upon this multiple times before. In the past, to deal with this issue, we have had Arrears Committees, in every High Court and in the Supreme Court as well, which is supposed to look into this question of backlog and delay and how best to get rid of the backlog of cases.

According to the National Crime Record Bureau, lakhs of people who are lodged in jail are waiting for their pleas to be heard. Thousands are in jail for petty crimes and have spent more jail time than are required by law. On 31st December 2016, there were at least 18,000 women prisoners in central jails across the country and of them, the hearing of cases of 6328 women had not even been started in Courts.

A look at the backlog of cases across states:

  • In Haryana, Sikkim and Mizoram, one in every 10 cases are over 10 years old.
  • In Gujarat, 4 out of every 10 cases are at least 10 years old.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, 44,500 cases are disposed of every month
  • In Karnataka, 34,000 cases are disposed of every month.

One has to look at the infrastructure, the quality of judges being appointed, the facilities which they get and of course the vacancies being filled up. Thus, these are the issues which need to be taken up altogether so that the justice delivery system is geared up to meet the challenges of these huge backlogs which are pending all over the country.

Some specific problems:

  • On an average, there is just one judge for 73,000 people in India.
  • In contrast, the US has one judge for every 13,000 people.
  • The situation is much worse in Delhi, where we have one judge for every 4 lakh, 93 thousand people.
  • In Delhi, an average of 1450 cases are pending for each judge.
  • Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of pending cases in India
  • In Uttar Pradesh, there are 2500 cases pending with each judge.
  • In West Bengal, there are 1963 cases pending with each judge.
  • In Kerala, there are 1881 cases pending with each judge.
  • Given the current situation, it will take several years for all the existing cases to be disposed of, even if the courts and all the judges in the country work day and night, and even if a single further fresh case isn’t filed.
  • People spend years, waiting for justice at the doorsteps of courts, but often end up without getting justice. The lawsuits are increasing by the day and there is no solution to deal with the backlog. The Indian Judiciary is struggling under a mammoth 3.4 crore case backlog. In the lower courts, one in every 10 criminal cases, has been pending for over a decade. On an average a district judge, disposes of 43 cases in a month, while a district court hears 1350 cases every year.
  • One of the things that could be looked at is to look at listing practices, across High Courts and across even the lower courts- this will help understand as to how exactly cases are placed before a judge, and on what basis. How many cases in a day is a judge hearing?

According to the National Judicial Data Grid,

  • Over 2 crore, 72 lakh cases are pending in Indian courts
  • Out of these, 83 lakh cases are civil lawsuits
  • And over 1 crore, 90 lakh are criminal cases.
  • Over 56,000 cases are pending in the Supreme Court; out of these, over 20,000 cases are over a year old.
  • 40 lakh cases are pending in High Courts, and at least 6 lakh cases are pending for decades.

In a recent response to a question, the Government informed the Lok Sabha that 2 crore, 60 lakh cases were pending in district and subordinate courts till December 2017.

Judicial Delays: Pending Cases in States

There are 60 lakh cases pending in Uttar Pradesh, making the state have the highest number of pending cases. Around 18,56,000 cases are pending in West Bengal. Bihar comes next with 16,81,000 cases. Gujarat has 15,88,000 pending cases. Karnataka has 14,63,000 pending cases. Rajasthan has 14,61,000 pending cases. There are 12,45,000 pending cases in Kerala. There are 10,63,000 pending cases in Odisha. There are 10,56,000 pending cases in Tamil Nadu.

  • Of the total pending cases, 8.3 % cases are over a decade old
  • 16.07 % cases are pending for five years
  • 28.7 % cases are pending in the courts for over 2 years
  • 46.77 % cases are pending for less than 2 years

Need of the hour:

  • There is a need to appoint 50 judges per 10 lakh population. At the moment, this figure is just 10 judges.
  • The same ratio is 107 in the US, and 50 in England. In the Indian High Courts, there are vacancies for 434 judges.
  • The lack of judges and the increasing number of cases, has burdened the courts and has delayed the settlement of cases.
  • In the courts, we have a certain number of backlog cases that are listed along with regular matters that are being heard. Thus, the judge doesn’t have enough time to finish hearing regular matters, and thereafter go onto backlog matters. Thus, hearings keep getting adjourned, or they keep getting pushed back into the system. This also ties into the fact that lawyers know that the system works this way, so they don’t necessarily prepare for these backlog cases and come and therefore, they ask for adjournments and adjournments are given quite liberally in many courts as well. Thus, this creates a system where backlog cases continue to exist.
  • Apart from corruption, there is a long and costly judicial process and delays in delivering decisions. As far as pending cases are concerned, the Supreme Court has 60,000 pending cases, waiting to be disposed of 38 lakh cases are in the High Courts, and 2 crore, 30 lakh are in the district and subordinate courts, which are waiting to be considered.
  • In Delhi, there are so many cases that are pending that even if 5 minutes is given to each lawsuit, it would take 466 years to settle all the cases.
  • There is a need to rectify the judicial system in the lower courts to speed up trials. Experts say that the maintenance of Courts, their resources, proper facilities in Court premises, and continuous hearing of cases are necessary. Apart from these, there is a need to accelerate civil and criminal hearing. The hearing and disposal of these cases, takes a lot of time. In many criminal cases, the decisions come when the person has almost completed his sentence. Similarly, in the civil cases, the second or sometimes the third generation, receives a final decision.
  • These rising cases of delay in judgements indicate that our judicial system is in a state of collapse. This is the reason that the President of India, Prime Minister, and Chief Justice have also started expressing their concern over this.

Lok Adalats

  • Lok Adalats were setup across the country in an attempt to clear up the backlog of cases. Lok Adalats encourage parties to settle cases outside the formal court system. In the last 2 decades, crores of cases have been settled through these courts.

Let’s see how this often overlooked mechanism offers a fast and hassle free form of dispute resolution:

  • The People’s Court or Lok Adalat has become a strong mechanism in India now. It is an alternative dispute redressal mechanism, where disputes or cases pending in courts are settled in a day. To get out of the maze of litigation, courts and lawyers chambers, most of the countries have encouraged this kind of an alternative dispute redressal mechanism.
  • Lok Adalats were allowed by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment
  • In 1976, Article 39-A was introduced to ensure that justice is not denied to any citizen of the country due to reasons of economic or other disabilities.
  • Article 14 and 22(1) also make it obligatory for the state to ensure equality before law and a legal system which promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity to all
  • In 1987, the Legal Services Authorities Act was enacted to give a statutory base to legal aid programmes throughout the country on a uniform pattern
  • However, this Act was finally enforced on 9th of November, 1995
  • The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was constituted on the 5th of December, 1995 under the Legal Services Authorities Act. The task of NALSA is to evaluate, implement and monitor the legal aid programme.
  • NALSA along with other Legal Services Institutions conducts Lok Adalats
  • Under Section 19 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, Lok Adalats have a statutory status.

The important thing to keep in mind is how these existing systems can be improved rather than creating newer bodies to look at the same questions. The introduction of Lok Adalats added a new chapter to the justice dispensation system of India. The Lok Adalat in India is a forum where long pending cases are settled outside of court. Lok Adalats settle disputes through conciliation and compromise.

Composition of Lok Adalats

  • There are 4 levels of Lok Adalats. At the top is the State Legal Services Authority that is constituted in all the states of the country. After this comes the High Court Legal Services Committee that is located in the High Court complex of every High Court. These are followed by District Legal Services Authority at the district level, and the Taluk Legal Services Committee at the taluka level.
  • In a report that the Law Commission had taken out in 2017, we saw that even in the tribunal system, there is a huge amount of backlog of cases. Thus, on one hand, new systems are being created, but on the other hand, one is not equipping these systems to truly function. The Lok Adalat’s decision is deemed to be the decree of a civil court. It is final and binding on all parties and no appeal against such an award exists in any court. The Lok Adalat is presided over by a sitting or a retired judicial officer as the Chairman, with two other members, usually a lawyer and a social worker. There is no court fee. The Lok Adalat is very effective in the settlement of money claims. Disputes like partition suits, damages and matrimonial cases can also be easily settled before Lok Adalats, as the scope for compromise through an approach of give and take is high in these cases.
  • By 2015, there were more than 15 lakh public courts in the country, out of which, more than 8 crore lawsuits were settled. Most state governments have encouraged the Lok Adalats, as they reduce the burden on the judiciary.

How does the Indian Judiciary function?

  • To know how the Indian Judiciary functions, it is important to understand its organizational structure. The Indian courts form a strict hierarchy, with the Supreme Court at the top, followed by the High Courts in the states, and the District Courts below them. These courts hear civil and criminal cases including disputes between individuals and the government. India has a three-tiered judicial system.
  • What is significant about the Indian judiciary is that it is independent of the executive and the legislative branches of the state under the constitution. The constitution provides for a single, integrated judicial system. Under this, the Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. The subordinate courts, work under the High Courts. The Indian judiciary also acts as the interpreter and the protector of the constitution, it is also the guardian of the fundamental rights.
  • A civil case goes before a civil judge and then goes before the district judge and then comes to the high court and then the Supreme Court. A criminal case, goes before a magistrate, then before a district judge and then High Court and then the Supreme Court. Some of the serious offences go straight away for a sessions trial. In this case, the case move from the sessions trial directly to the High Court and then the Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal in India. All courts in India are under the control of the Supreme Court. The High Courts have a jurisdiction over a state, a union territory, or a group of states and union territories. Below the High Courts are a hierarchy of subordinate courts like the Civil Courts, Family Courts, Criminal Courts and various other District Courts. In each district, the highest court is that of the district and sessions judge. The District Court is presided over by one district judge, who is appointed by the state government. The District judge is also called a Metropolitan Sessions Judge when he/she is presiding over a district court in a city designated as a metropolitan area by the State Government. In addition to the district judge, there may also be a number of additional district judges and assistant district judges.
  • Further, the subordinate courts covering civil cases, are considered as Junior Civil Judge Courts, Principal Junior Courts, and Senior Civil Judge Courts. All these courts are treated in an ascending order. Besides, there are also Courts of small causes for metropolitan cities, and Munsif’s court.
  • Commercial Courts are also established at the district level to resolve commercial disputes, valuing one crore rupees and above. Besides, there are also specialized courts and tribunals to reduce the burden of pending cases, such as Debt Recovery Tribunals, Consumer Courts, Family Courts, Labour Courts, and Motor Accident Claims Tribunal. Village Courts comprise of a system of alternative dispute resolution; also called Nyay Panchayats, it is a system of dispute resolution at the village level. Nyay Panchayats comprise of a Sarpanch as its head, and a few Panch members. Nyay Panchayats are endowed with functions based on the principles of natural justice. The procedure followed in Nyay Panchayats is very simple and informal.

Read more Gist of Rajya Sabha TV to help you ace current affairs in the IAS exam.

Also see:

Effectiveness of the Legal and the Judicial Systems
Judicial Overreach
Public Interest Litigation (PIL)



Leave a Comment

Your Mobile number and Email id will not be published.