When Khumbha Ram moved the Supreme Court in September 2010, seeking a re-trial against his daughter’s alleged killers over dowry demands, he hoped the final stop in a long road to justice would bring him speedy closure.
But Ram lost all hope after learning that his appeal, which was against a Rajasthan high court verdict, would not come up for hearing for at least 10 years.
That’s the time-frame it takes in the normal course in the top court– part of a long battle that often locks in litigants for decades.
In November this year, however, Ram was in for surprise when his counsel Aysweria Bhatti told him a special bench was readying to hear his case.
In a span of minutes, the bench – hearing criminal appeals pending for over five years – settled his case, ordering the lower case to re-do the trial against his daughter’s husband and in-laws who had been absolved of murder charges.
Ram wasn’t the only one. His case was among the 2,000 regular appeals the SC has disposed of since March this year -- a record of sorts.
The numbers assume added significant given India’s labyrinthine judicial system where litigants often wait for a lifetime to get their cases disposed of, let alone getting justice.
India has the highest number of cases pending before courts – a staggering 30 million – with poor infrastructure and inadequate manpower being the main culprits.
In the SC itself, there are 58,000 such cases. Keeping this in mind, former Chief Justice of India HL Dattu – who retired earlier this month –constituted four special benches earlier this year to clear the backlog of such cases pending since 2002.
By the end of November 2015, these benches had given final judgments in matters piled up before the court for over six years – something that would have taken at least a decade in the normal course.
Leading the fight was the bench of justices AK Sikri and Rohinton Nariman, which cleared 1,232 taxation matters.
These regular benches used to sit on all the five working days of the week. Another bench headed by justice PC Ghose disposed of 533 criminal appeals. This too was constituted in March.
After the two benches proved successful and managed to achieve the task entrusted to them, justice Dattu later constituted two more similar benches on July 14. One of them – led by justice Vikramjit Sen - exclusively dealt with commercial matters. This bench decided 147 matters.
Regular appeals against conviction cases were heard by a bench headed by justice FMI Kalifullah, which disposed of 52 final matters.
Speedy disposal had an impact on the pending cases in the top court. From 65,000, the number of such cases has come down to 58,000. “I am very happy with the performance of these benches, especially the one that heard tax cases,” Justice Dattu told HT the day he retired.