Chief Justice of India TS Thakur’s emotional outburst at a conference on Sunday has once again highlighted the problem of the judicial backlog of over 30 million cases, which has been plaguing the judiciary for decades. Justice delayed is justice denied is an age-old adage. Even parties not directly involved in a particular piece of litigation are adversely affected by the snail-paced justice delivery system. Delayed justice can lead to vigilantism by people frustrated with the system.
Successive governments have treated the judiciary as a non-productive organ of the state. Less than 1% of the Union Budget is spent on the judiciary. What is often forgotten is the fact that it has serious implications for the Indian economy as well. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been pitching for Make in India on a big scale. As pointed out by the CJI, a fast-growing Indian economy is attracting a lot of foreign direct investment. Foreign investors wants quicker disposal of their commercial disputes. But the current system of disposal of commercial disputes does not inspire much confidence among foreign investors. “Those who are investing (in India) are concerned about the ability of our judiciary to deal with their cases,” the CJI said.
The government has taken a laudable initiative of setting up commercial courts. But it has not allocated separate manpower and infrastructure for it. This sort of practice can defeat the very purpose of having such specialised courts. The Constitution aims to secure social, economic and political justice to all citizens. It’s sad commentary on our performance that even after 66 years of India’s existence as a modern republic, access to affordable and timely justice remains a far cry. Our policy makers must realise that the number of new cases filed increases with literacy and wealth. For example, Kerala, with a literacy rate of more than 90%, has some 28 new cases per 1,000 people, as against some four cases per 1,000 in Jharkhand, which has a literacy rate of around 53%.
As India’s literacy rate and per capita income increase, the number of cases filed per 1,000 people is bound to increase from the current rate of about 15 — which is up from roughly 3 per 1,000 cases some three decades ago — to about 75 in the next three decades, estimates an SC-appointed panel. By this time India’s population should be about 1.5 billion. This will mean that at least 150 million cases may be filed each year by then, requiring 75,000 judges at a ratio of 50 judges per million against the current ratio of 13 judges per million. This could really shackle the India growth story.