Overburdened bench, backlog in corridors of court…Is there a plan?

RSTV Bureau
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Chief Justice of India TS Thakur during the inauguration of  Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi, April 25, 2016. Photo-PTI

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Chief Justice of India TS Thakur during the inauguration of Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi, April 25, 2016.
Photo-PTI

Staring at over 38 lac pending cases before its High Courts alone, India needs a dramatic addition to its existing judicial strength. Chief Justice of India TS Thakur was a sea of emotion on Sunday, as he sought executive to increase number of judges from the present 21,000 to 40,000 to handle what he termed the avalanche of litigations.

India is ailing with a severe backlog of cases, often resulting in several thousands of under-trials languishing in jails. At the end of 2014, there were 2.82 lakh under trial prisoners languishing in jails. Almost 68 percent of all inmates in the country’s 1,387 jails are under-trials.

As per official figure, around 2.64 crore cases were pending in courts across the country, including in the Supreme Court and high courts, as on December 31, 2015. Till March 2015, 61,300 cases were pending in the apex court.

Addressing the inaugural session of Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts, CJI TS Thakur said that since 1987, when the Law Commission had recommended increase in the number of judges from then 10 judges per 10 lakh people to 50, adding “nothing has moved”.

FILE: File photo of Allahabad High Court.  Photo - PTI

FILE: File photo of Allahabad High Court.
Photo – PTI

As of today, the judge to people ratio stands at 15 judges to 10 lakh people which is way less than as compared to the US, Australia, the UK and Canada.

When the apex court came into being in 1950, it had a strength of 8 judges, including the CJI with 1,215 cases pending. The pendency was 100 cases per judge. By 1960, the strength of the SC rose to 14 judges and the cases also increased to 3,247. In 1977, the strength was 18 and the cases were 14,501. By 2009, as is the case today, the strength of SC judges rose to 31 and the pending cases spiralled by 77,181.

As per the latest Law Ministry figures, the approved strength of the subordinate judiciary is 20214 with 4580 vacancies. The approved strength of the 24 high courts is 1056 and the vacancy was pegged at 458 as on March 1, 2016. In the Supreme Court, there are six vacancies against the sanctioned strength of 31 judges, including the CJI.

That’s just numbers lending hints of burden of backlog over the judiciary.

According to independent studies, poor management of courts has resulted in a backlog of nearly three crore cases across the country and cutting 50 per cent wastage of judicial time would be equal to appointing double the number of incumbent judges.

File Photo of Chennai High Court

File Photo of Chennai High Court

The study conducted by Raj Kachroo, a judicial activist, claims that better work allocation to judges in district courts besides introduction of a data management system for courts may help in cutting down on delays.

“Shortage of judges is not an important factor. If we can stop wastage of judicial time by 50 per cent, we will, implicitly, double the number of judges in the country without appointing any new ones,” Kachroo’s study says.

“Adjournment is a serious cause of delays. It has been turned into a strategic tool of defence by lawyers. It needs to be set right. A simple management tool can bring down the rate of adjournment dramatically,” he says.

Judges in India are either appointed or elevated. In the lower courts the judges are appointed through judiciary examinations and are elevated to High courts and Supreme Court through Collegium system, a practice where the panel of CJI and four immediate senior judges selects/elevate the judges.

JudgesA law to appoint judges, National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act was passed by the Parliament but was struck down by the apex court.

While the matter was pending before Constitution bench, the vacancies kept on increasing.

However, 145 judges were either elevated as permanent judges in the high courts or were appointed as additional judges, but 169 proposals were still pending with the government, Justice Thakur told the gathering which also included the Prime Minister.

“How much time does it require when there is an avalanche of cases,” he said, adding 50 per cent of the recommendations made by the high courts were rejected by the collegiums.

In a significant step to tackle mounting cases, a conference of chief ministers and chief justices of high courts today adopted a resolution to invoke a constitutional provision to appoint retired judicial officers as ad hoc judges. But, will that be enough?