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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

Budget 2019: Unclogging India’s courts can help boost investment

Calling for a systematic approach focusing on pendency in lower courts, the survey pointed out that district and subordinate courts accounted for 87.54% of the 3.53 crore pending cases. Pendency in the high courts is 12.30%, and at 0.16 %, the least in the apex court.

budget Updated: Jul 05, 2019 11:18 IST
Ashok Bagriya and Amandeep Shukla
Ashok Bagriya and Amandeep Shukla
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Improving the clearance rates and pendency are two key issues on hand that need to be dealt with to make the judiciary more efficient, the Survey said.
Improving the clearance rates and pendency are two key issues on hand that need to be dealt with to make the judiciary more efficient, the Survey said.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)
         

The heavy backlog of cases in India’s judicial system dragging down economic growth and investments can actually be addressed through a relatively simple step, the appointment of 2,279 additional district and sessions judges and 93 judges to the high courts, according the Economic Survey for 2018-19.

“The Indian judicial system has over 3.53 crore pending cases. At first glance, this number looks very large and insurmountable, but it is a potentially solvable problem. Given the potential economic and social multipliers of a well-functioning legal system, this may well be the best investment India can make,” the Survey argued.

Making the judicial appointments can go a long way in helping the investment cycle in the country, it said.

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“India continues to lag on the indicator for enforcing contracts, climbing only one rank from 164 to 163 in the latest report of EODB, 2018,” the report said, referring to the Ease of Doing Business rankings of the World Bank “In spite of a number of actions to expedite and improve the contract enforcement regime, economic activity is being affected by the long shadow of delays and pendency across the legal landscape. Contract enforcement remains the single biggest constraint to improve our EODB ranking. This is ironical for a country that has long idealized contract enforcement. As Tulsi Ramayana puts it, “praan jayi par vachan na jayi” i.e “one’s promise is worth more than one’s life,” the Survey said.

Calling for a systematic approach focusing on pendency in lower courts, the survey pointed out that district and subordinate courts accounted for 87.54% of the 3.53 crore pending cases. Pendency in the high courts is 12.30%, and at 0.16 %, the least in the apex court.

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Improving the clearance rates and pendency are two key issues on hand that need to be dealt with to make the judiciary more efficient, the Survey said.

“Firstly, a 100 per cent clearance rate must be achieved so that there is zero accumulation to the existing pendency. Secondly, the backlog of cases already present in the system must be removed,” it added.

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The report said that the district and sessions courts across the country received 1.5 crore additional cases in 2018 and had a backlog of 2.87 crore as of January 1, 2018. The number of cases disposed of in 2018 was 1.33 crore. The closing balance at the end of 2018 was 3.04 crore.

There are currently 17,891 judges compared to the sanctioned strength of 22,750 and on average, a judge disposes of 746 cases, the survey said.

“To reach 100 per cent Case Clearance Rate (CCR) in 2018, the district and sessions courts needed 2,279 additional judges. This is within the sanctioned strength!,” the report observed. The CCR is the ratio of the number of cases disposed of in a given year to the number of cases instituted in that year, expressed as a percentage.

To clear all the backlog in the next five years, 8,152 more judges are needed, it added.

The report said that applying the same framework to higher courts, “we found that the numbers are even smaller”.

For high courts, “In order to reach 100 per cent CCR, they needed just 93 additional judges. To clear all backlogs in the next five years, the High Courts need a further 361 additional judges,” observed the survey.

Analysing state-wise figures, the Survey said Gujarat and Chhattisgarh had clearance rates of above 100% in 2018. These states had achieved a level of efficiency where they were not only able to cope with fresh case filings but also address a part of the the backlog from previous years.

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“Eastern Indian states perform poorly. Bihar, Odisha, and West Bengal have low clearance rates of 55.58 per cent, 62.18 per cent, and 78.63 per cent respectively. Hence, we suggest that these states should be given priority in the appointment of additional judges,” the Survey said.

The report also observed that courts remaining closed for vacations also had a significant impact on disposal of cases. “For instance, the Supreme Court’s official calendar for 2019 suggests that it would close for 49 days for summer vacations, 14 days for winter break, and a further 18 days for Holi, Diwali and Dussehra. After accounting for weekends and public holidays, it leaves 190 working days for the Supreme Court. In contrast, the average is 232 working days for HCs and 244 days for subordinate courts,” report said.

Senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde said the number of posts to be filled among additional district and sessions judges , at 2,279, sounded surprising given that the report mentioned only 93 posts in the high courts. “In a high court like Allahabad, the largest in the country, criminal appeals do not get heard for nearly two decades and are often resolved through the death of parties. The survey seems to be taking largely civil and commercial claims into account, while ignoring criminal cases, many of which also have implications for ease of business,” Hegde said.