As challenges go, the justice system in India is up against it — staring at more than 31.3 million pending cases.
This backlog takes a toll on individuals as well as the system.
Even the top is heavy in this case. The number of pending cases (civil + criminal) in the Supreme Court as on May 2014 is 63,843, an increase of 9% from 58,519 cases in 2011.
The Supreme Court website states that more than 50% of the pending cases are miscellaneous and not ready regular hearing matters.
Pending cases in high courts as on December 2013 stood at 4.4 million, up from 4.3 million in 2011. The Allahabad high court alone accounted for a million of these pending cases.
The pendency of cases in district and subordinate courts was 20 million in 2013, registering a fall of 100,000 from 2011.
Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have the highest backlog. Incidentally, UP is the most populous state in India and Maharashtra too has a huge population.
Gujarat, not among the five most populous states in India, has the third highest number of pending cases in its district and subordinate courts.
Incidentally, around 25% of cases in all courts are pending for five years or more; 70% are pending for less than five years; and the rest are instituted every year.
Parliament data state that increasing number of legislations, accumulation of first appeals, adjournments and lack of logistics are the causes for more than 30 million cases pending.
Vacancies of judges and judicial personnel have also not helped.
A closer look at the data reveals that the Supreme Court has five vacancies; high courts have 319, while district and subordinate courts have vacancies of 4,382 judicial officers.
We can see a correlation between vacancy of judges and pending number of cases in Allahabad and Calcutta high courts.
The Allahabad high court has the highest number of vacancies as well as the highest number of pending cases.
The Parliament recently passed the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Bill that gives it power to regulate judicial appointments.
At present, the judge strength is around 14 to 16 for a million citizens. Ideally, as per the Supreme Court, it should be around 50 per million.
Developed regions like Europe have more than 150 judges per million, while the United States has nearly 100 judges for the same number.
A possible way out could be the creation of more Lok Adalats. Between 2001 and 2012, a total of 104,728 Lok Adalats were conducted all across India and they disposed of more than 2.4 million cases.
The National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms was established in June 2011 with the primary aim of reducing delays. The Centre committed Rs 5,510 crore for the mission from 2011-2016.
Efforts are on to tackle the challenge, but the piled up numbers suggest much more needs to be done, and fast.
Ideation and written by : Sourjya Bhowmick
Research : Shreya Chatterjee
Visualization : Vignesh Radhakrishnan
Source: Supreme court and Parliamentary Q and A