By Amrita Singh:
CJI T.S. Thakur’s emotional address to the public brought the paucity of judges into focus last month. We have about 13 judges per one million people in our country where the ideal requirement is 50 per million. But this isn’t the first time this issue is surfacing, in 1987 too, the Law Commission had recommended increasing the number of judges from 10 judges per one million people then to 50. The result of not taking the issue up in due time has resulted in over three crore cases being pending in court.
The process of selection of judges has been a bone of contention between the executive and the judiciary since last year. To decide the new Memorandum of Procedure, appointment of new judges was adjourned for a year. The proposed MoP which gave the Centre the power to reject any name on the ground of national security, was consequently shot down by the SC. Consequently, the disposal rate of High Courts and Subordinate Courts decreased over the past year. To end the stalemate, it was decided to follow the old procedure of selection for immediate relief wherein the collegium selected the name and sent it to the IB for vetting.
At the event, the CJI said, “If you have 170 names sent to you (for appointment of HC judges) for two months, I don’t understand why they are held up, where are those proposals stuck, we should know… Why should the Intelligence Bureau take months to send its report (on judges’ appointment)? Why can’t the Prime Minister’s Office ask the IB to send its report within 15 days?” It’s only after the IB vets and approves the collegium’s recommendations that the list reaches the Centre for a final approval. One aspect which is getting ignored is that only 170 names were provided as opposed to the need of 462 judges.
Albeit at a slow pace, the number of cases being filed every year is increasing. An interesting reason for the same, apart from depleting moral conscience, is increased awareness, with increased literacy. Kerala, for example, gets 28 new cases per 1,000 people. It has a literacy rate of over 90%. Jharkhand, which has a literacy rate of around 53%, gets four cases per 1,000.
According to the National Judicial Data Grid website as on December 31, 2015, 2.6 crore cases are pending only in lower courts of which 41.38% cases have been pending for less than two years and 10.83% have been pending for over 10 years. This is a resultant of rampant “bribes for bail” and postponing dates, so much so that former Chief Justice of India V.N. Khare said in an interview, “Judges are only human, like us. They come from the same society. Our society is all about quick successes. Short cuts are taken. Even by the judges.”
Another interesting aspect is that the government is the largest litigant in India, responsible for nearly half the pending cases. Many of them are actually cases of one department of the government suing another, leaving decision-making to the courts.
Fast Track Courts was the first implemented and successful solution to the problem. Out of 36 lakh cases that were transferred to the FTCs, close to 30.7 lakh have been disposed of.
Fast Track Courts were started in 2005 but in 2011, the Centre cut off funding and made it the State’s responsibility to fund the FTCs out of their own budgets. Since then 60% of these courts have shut down even though the programme only requires approximately 0.1% of the state budget.
Increasing budget allocation, setting up E-courts and fast track courts can escalate the process of clearing out pending cases. Judicial infrastructure needs to be given equal importance as well because even if the 20,502 posts of judges in the subordinate judiciary are filled, we’ll need almost 4000 extra courtrooms to accommodate them. Retired judges have been appointed in High Courts on an ad hoc basis under Article 224-A of the Constitution.
To conclude, one must keep in mind that there are multiple factors that have contributed to judicial pendency, and one can’t simply blame one party for it. As quality and quantity always go hand in hand, the problem isn’t restricted to pendency, it extends to the judiciary not being able to give time to each individual case in order to achieve swift disposal. One silver lining is that even though the backlog seems insurmountable right now, the pendency rate isn’t increasing, it’s constant. So even if minute measures are taken, disposal of the backlog can accelerate easily. Hopefully, due to increased discourse on the topic, significant measures will be taken soon and we will never have to taunt the system with ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ again.