Millions Of Files Pile Up In Courts: Judiciary Stuck With Cases

Millions Of Files Pile Up In Courts: Judiciary Stuck With Pending Cases

A gallantry award-winning army man has been stuck in jail in Jaipur since 2006 and has already served more than a life sentence for a case for which the verdict has yet to be delivered. Nearly five crore cases are pending across courts in India, and our judiciary is clogged with pending cases with no immediate solutions in sight.
First Published: Apr 30,2023 07:51PM
by Bhaswati Sengupta

Pending Cases | Representative Image | Photo Courtesy: Special arrangement

“I joined as Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh High Court in May 2016. As soon as I took over, I asked them which was the oldest case in the High Court, and they told me that a writ petition had been pending for over three decades. I called for the file and listed it in the court, and the only order which needed to be passed in that case was that the High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter. It was a matter falling under the jurisdiction of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT). I started my judgement with an apology to the litigants that this has happened in my court, and it almost took over three decades for the court to even tell the litigants that this is not the place where they must come and they must go to the CAT,” rues Justice Deepak Gupta, former judge of the Supreme Court of India.

Justice Deepak Gupta, former Supreme Court Judge speaks to The Probe’s Bhaswati Sengupta on pendency of cases in Indian courts.

Nearly five crore cases are pending across courts in India. In the Supreme Court alone, over 70,000 cases have been pending, and there is a backlog of about 60 lakh cases in the country’s high courts. Justice Deepak Gupta says that India lacks adequate judges and courts. “We have a very large population. We have more than 130 crore people, and there are bound to be more cases. Our judge-to-population ratio is one of the lowest in the civilised world. Even small countries like Egypt have the same number of judges as we have. The other thing is that the state itself is the biggest litigant in the country. A lot of criminal cases are filed which have no reason to be filed. A lot of civil cases are defended by the state, which the state should not be defending. Above all, our country has an adjournment culture. Our court procedures are outdated, and we don’t use technology as much as we should.”

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Sudhanshu S Pandey, a Supreme Court lawyer, says that several people in India have been languishing in jails in different parts of the country not for their crimes but because the courts could not find time to hear their pleas. He talks about one such heart-wrenching case.

“I am handling a case in which the judgement has been reserved twice. The person is an army man who is a Shaurya Chakra recipient. He is a gallantry award winner and has been in jail since 2006 and has spent almost 18 years in a jail in Jaipur. I have approached the court twice for the final judgement, and everyone who has followed this case knows that the man will be acquitted the day the judgement is given. It is a case of clean acquittal, but the judicial process has been dragging on, and he has been in jail for nearly two decades now,” states Pandey.

India Justice Report 2022 recently revealed that the problems related to judges vacancies in India was an endemic. As of December 2022, the high courts in India were functioning with only 778 judges against a sanctioned strength of 1108 judges. “If you take the vacancies in Delhi High Court, you will find that there will always be 20 vacancies for judges at any given point of time, but it will not be filled at all,” asserts Pandey.

According to the government’s figures, India has approximately 21 judges per million population. The government gave out the details on the basis of the sanctioned strength of the judiciary and census figures of 2011. “We have one of the lowest per capita ratios of judges in the world. The government is not interested in increasing the number of judges and their infrastructure. We lack an extremely efficient judiciary. The lawyers are also unwilling to cooperate in the speedy disposal of cases and are somewhat responsible for delays in hearing cases. These delays have started affecting the law and order situation in the country. It is time all stakeholders sit together and work to resolve the issue of pendency of cases,” says Dushyant Dave, senior advocate of the Supreme Court.

Justice Madan Lokur, former Supreme Court judge, tells The Probe that it is not that the judges are unaware of the problem of pendency, but there must be a will to resolve the problem of pendency. “I think the judges should sit across the table and brainstorm and find ways and means of resolving the cases of pendency. There has to be some action. The judges are very well aware of the causes, but there has to be a will to figure out the solution. Each high court has its own problems. There can’t be a blanket solution that can work for all courts.”

Justice Gupta says that before Covid, the pendency in the courts of India was about three crores, but it rose to a whopping five crores as after Covid, cases did not get disposed of as they used to in the past. Gupta fears that if the pendency of cases is not addressed immediately, the entire judicial system will collapse, and people will start using alternative methods of settling disputes that are unconstitutional.

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“There are alternative methods which I would welcome. Those are arbitration, conciliation, mediation and settlements outside the courts. But I am more worried that some other alternative methods would be used by people that are illegal. Like for instance, a landlord hiring goons to beat up the tenant. A company getting goons to recover their dues from a person. They will resort to alternate tactics if they feel that the courts can’t give them relief. That is why we need a speedy case disposal system,” notes Justice Gupta.

Justice Gupta adds, “We also need to now look at alternative means of dispute resolution like arbitration, conciliation and mediation. Under Section 89 of the CPC, these three alternative dispute resolution systems are almost mandatory. However, our system of arbitration is very cumbersome and expensive. Mediation and conciliation are yet to take off in the country in the right way, and one of the biggest crisis facing our judiciary is that there is reluctance from the side of almost all judges at all levels to take up old cases. If the file is 15 or 20 years old, then the file is heavy and dusty, and no judge wants to touch it. My experience is that when you take up old cases, most of the time, the case becomes infructuous. So, we must go on a mission mode to take up the oldest cases on the one hand and, on the other, work on making our alternative dispute resolution system more efficient.

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