ALMOST 15 years after the CBI registered a graft case against a junior Central Public Works Department engineer, the agency filed a closure report in April this year claiming that Rs 450 taken by him from a private contractor was only towards payment of ?daily wages? of labourers at the site. But the poor engineer had to wait for 15 long years for justice to be done. If this comes as a shock, what would be one'sreaction to know that as of December 31, 2005, as many as 2,92,10,015 (or roughly three crore) cases are pending in various courts across the country while nearly 3,000 posts of judges are lying vacant with the UPA government doing nothing about it?
According to the very first issue of Court News, a quarterly newsletter published by the apex court, existing courts are over-burdened with the demand for 2,886 vacant positions of judges remaining unfulfilled as on April 14 this year. If this is not a crying shame what else is? It is rather unfortunate, as Justice M. Jagannadha Rao, chairman in 2004 of the Law Commission of India reported in a brief note, that every time the figures of backlogs are referred to, no reference is made to the number of fresh cases filed in each year nor to the number of cases actually disposed of.
Is this the way to govern India? Can'twe do something about rendering justice instead of fighting over reservations and getting police to beat up students protesting against thoughtless political decisions?
According to Justice Jagannadha Rao, in the High Courts, on an average, around 15 lakh cases (around 9 lakh main cases and 6 lakh miscellaneous ones) are disposed of annually. Similarly, in the subordinate courts, around 1.35 crore are disposed of every year. According to Justice Jagannadha Rao, again as of 2004, ?the backlog of 35 lakh cases in the High Courts and 2 crore in the subordinate courts is the result of the excess cases filed each year over the cases disposed of?.
What this means is that, if any comprehensive plan for clearing the backlog is to be prepared, it will be necessary to keep in view two separate strategies, one for clearing the existing backlog and another for the annual additions to the backlog.
As Justice Jagannadha Rao saw the situation, so far as the backlog in the subordinate courts is concerned, additional courts must be created and additional judicial officers must be appointed, to remain for a period of five years or more, till the backlog is cleared. The trouble seems to be that over the years, filed cases have increased in number faster than increase in the number of judicial officers. That the UPA Government does not seem to have addressed adequately to this situation is a crying shame.
According to Justice Jagannadha Rao, writing in 2004, the backlog for subordinate cases was steadily increasing ?over and above 2 crore each year?. In the High courts, the backlog was increasing by about 2 lakh each year (including miscellaneous matters), notwithstanding disposal of about 1.30 crore of cases every year by the subordinate courts and about 15 lakh by the High Courts. The average disposal per High Court Judge around 2004 was about 1,500 per year or about 2,300 main and miscellaneous matters?a fact little known to the public. The average for a judicial officer in the subordinate courts was 1,150 cases per year which, by any account must be considered commendable. In his note (2004) Justice Jagannadha Rao pointed out that as of then some 1,370 Fast Track Courts had started functioning when it was necessary to have 1,734 Fast Track Courts set up at a cost of Rs 502.90 crore.
What is the situation now? Shouldn'twe have more of such Fast Track Courts on a permanent basis, presided over by members of the regular judicial service? And amenable to the disciplinary control of the High Court under Article 235? Let this be said: In its 120th Report (1987) the Law Commission had noted that the number of courts per million population in India was 10.5 whereas per million of population in Australia had 41.6 judges, Canada 75.2, English 50.9 and the United States 107.
In 2002, in the All Indian Judges Association vs Union of India case, the Supreme Court had directed that the number of courts per million population in India should be raised from 10.5 to 50, in a phased manner within five years.
Actually, if there are 13,000 subordinate courts and around 700 High Court Judges in all, or about 13,700 catering to a population of 1,000 million (or 100 crore), the average comes to about 8 per cent and not 10.05 per cent as is usually perceived. What this means is that if the percentage has to be raised to 50 per million we should have 50,000 judges in the subordinate courts alone. Is the Law Minister listening?
There is, of course, the matter of costs. If the fixed investment for setting up a new courtroom in High Court is around Rs 1 crore and the annual running expenditure is around Rs 50,000, it would require Rs 300 crore of fixed investment and Rs 175 crore of annual expenditure for five years, for the appointment of 300 High Court Judges to clear the backlog.
In the subordinate courts, the total requirement of funds for additional courts for clearing the backlog would require a one-time investment of Rs 1, 800 crore and an annual expenditure of Rs 700 crore. In all, according to one source, for the High Courts and Subordinate Courts, the total investment for clearing the backlog would be around Rs 2,100 crore and the running annual expenditure will be about Rs 875 crore per annum for five years. Is that too much to ask?
Justice Ranganath Misra in the first All India Judges Case 1992 (1) SCC 109 had said: ?The efficient functioning of the Rule of Law, under the aegis of which our democratic society can thrive, requires an efficient, strong and enlightened judiciary. And to have it that way, the nation has to pay a price.? How right he is. It is not, incidentally, just a cliche to say that justice delayed is justice denied.
Many have taken note of the fact that often, in sessions courts, if the trial is not taken up for several years, the accused who are under trial are let put on bail. According to Justice Jagannadha Rao, ?while it is true that an accused cannot be incarcerated for long number of years pending the criminal proceedings, a permanents solution has to be found that such practices can be stopped. And to think that as of 2004 there were about 2 lakh under-trials in jails and accounted for some 70 per cent of those detained compelling State Governments to spend around Rs 400 crore per annum on them! Is this the way to govern India? Can'twe do something about rendering justice instead of fighting over reservations and getting police to beat up students protesting against thoughtless political decisions?