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Breaking point: Number of cases threatens to overwhelm judiciary

The number of cases reaching courts will touch 15 crore requiring at least 75,000 judges in the next three decades, says report. Can the system keep up?

india Updated: Aug 05, 2014 17:33 IST
Satya Prakash
Satya Prakash
Hindustan Times
Indian judiciary,Supreme Court,judges court

The focus is back on the age-old issue of judicial delays after Chief Justice of India RM Lodha asked the government for a comprehensive plan to fast-track the criminal justice system.

Although the government wanted the cases pending against lawmakers to be fast-tracked, the CJI has made it clear that fast-tracking a few cases would not help speed up the entire criminal justice system.

The reason: The system is suffering from severe anaemia. The manpower and infrastructure for trial courts are far short of what is required. And political parties simply don't have the will to address the issue.

Why? The CJI told HT in May: "Governments think the judiciary is a non-productive organ... They hardly spend on the judiciary... less than 0.5% of the Budget is spent on the judiciary."

Former Delhi high court judge RS Sodhi said, "Nobody wants to spend on the judiciary because it will not fetch votes for them."

What's more, often laws are enacted without proper judicial impact assessment. For instance, a change in the Negotiable Instruments Act in 1988--making cheques getting dishonoured an offence--immediately increased the total number of litigations by 25 lakh.

The Indian judicial system, manned by 15,608 judges (actual strength), is one of the largest in the world. But, according to a 2012 National Court Management Systems report, although the number of judges increased six-fold in the last three decades, the number of cases shot up 12-fold.

Even by conservative estimates, the number of cases reaching courts will touch 15 crore requiring at least 75,000 judges in the next three decades, the report said.

There are other factors also that contribute to the pile-up of cases. The infrastructure available for courts - particularly lower courts - is inadequate, besides serious shortage of judges. Many courts function from rented buildings, while over 7,000 proposals for building courthouses are still awaiting state governments' clearance (see graphics).

Despite the Law Commission, parliamentary standing committee and the Supreme Court saying that the judge-population ratio in India should have 50 judges per one million people, the ratio continues to be abysmally low at 13 judges per one million people. Each lower court judge is burdened with 1,630 cases.

As a result, judges have to work at a frantic pace. In 2011, the number of cases disposed of - 20.4 million - was more than the 20 million cases filed during the year. They are trying their best not to deny justice, but justice is being delayed, for sure.

First Published: Aug 05, 2014 15:53 IST