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Justice delayed?

Soma Chakraborty, New Delhi, March 2016 


Alarming shortage of Judges, cases pendency hit Indian courts

According to an official estimate, there are over three crore cases pending at the three levels of the Indian judiciary. The situation became graver with no system in place on the appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court and the High Courts between April 13 and October 16 last year due to the fiasco over the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act. The alarming state of affairs in the Indian judiciary is evident from the fact that in the Supreme Court alone, as many as 59,468 cases were pending as on February 19, 2016. Bureaucracy Today analyses the situation and brings an in-depth report to its readers. 
As a well-known adage goes, “Justice delayed is justice denied”.  With every tick of the clock, the shortage of Judges and an ever increasing number of pending cases are making the wait for justice longer in India. According to Law and Justice Ministry data, the Supreme Court and the High Courts across the country are functioning with a strength of Judges much below the sanctioned one.
As per information available by the Supreme Court of India, it had 59,468 cases – 48,418 civil and 11,050 criminal –pending as on February 19, 2016.  
The situation is grimmer in the 24 High Courts and District and Subordinate Courts in the country.    
According to Ministry of Law and Justice data, a total of 41,53,957 cases were pending in High Courts across the country as on December 31, 2014. The situation was similar in the District and Subordinate Courts where around three crore cases were pending. As per official data, a total of 2,64,88,405 cases – 82,34,281 civil and 1,82,54,124 criminal – were pending in the District and Subordinate Courts as on December 31, 2014.
A Law Ministry statement says, “Some of the main factors responsible for pendency of cases in courts are increasing number of State and Central legislations, accumulation of first appeals, continuation of ordinary civil jurisdiction in some of the High Courts, vacancies of Judges, appeals against orders of quasi-judicial forums going to High Courts, number of revisions/appeals, frequent adjournments, indiscriminate use of writ jurisdiction, lack of adequate arrangement to monitor, track and bunch cases for hearing.”
Of all the factors, the number of vacancies in the judiciary stands out.
There is a huge backlog of Judges vacancies in courts across India. According to a Law and Justice Ministry document, the Supreme Court itself has a backlog of six Judges as against a sanctioned strength of 31.
The High Courts are also not far behind. The Ministry document says that as many as 464 positions of Judges were lying vacant in the 24 High Courts as against a sanctioned strength of 1,056 Judges – 754 permanent and 302 additional -- as on February 29, 2016.
The Delhi High Court had 21 positions of Judges vacant as against a sanctioned strength of 60. The ratio is serious in view of the number of cases going up substantially every year in the metropolis. 
The Allahabad High Court, which is the country’s largest, has 88 vacant positions as against the official strength of 160. The High Courts of other States like West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab and Haryana have the same story to tell. Only the Tripura High Court with a total strength of just four Judges has no vacancy. 
“With some High Courts having nearly 40 per cent vacancies, appeals go unheard for years together,” a practising lawyer in the Gauhati High Court tells Bureaucracy Today. The Gauhati High Court has nine positions of Judges vacant as against a sanctioned strength of 24. 
The Judge-population ratio in India works out to be 17.72 Judges/judicial officers per 10 lakh persons. In 2002, based on a comparative assessment of the position in other countries, the Supreme Court decided in the All India Judges’ Association case that the ratio must be 50 Judges for 10 lakh people in the country.
The Chief Justices’ Conference held on April 3 and 4, 2015 had resolved that each High Court would establish an Arrears Committee to clear the backlog of cases pending for more than five years.  
As per information available from the Ministry of Law and Justice, Arrears Committees have been set up in 19 High Courts. These 19 High Courts are of Allahabad, Bombay, Calcutta, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Madras, Manipur, Meghalaya, Orissa, Patna, Punjab and Haryana, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand.
No doubt, the Government is making effort to reduce the Judges’ shortage but experts opine that there is lot more to do. Experts say delays in the disposal of cases affect all sections of society and unless urgent steps are taken, the judiciary will crumble under its own weight and people will lose faith in the justice delivery system. Though Article 39-A of the Constitution directs the State to secure equal justice and provide free legal aid for its citizens, can we assume that in view of the present state of affairs in the legal system it (the State) has failed to address the basic issues of quick and inexpensive justice and protecting the rights of the vulnerable?


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