If farmers commit suicide, it understandably becomes instant news. If Maoists raid police stations in Orissa and casually kill a dozen constables, the information gets front-page coverage. And quite rightly so. But if a complainant seeks justice in a court of law and has to wait not just for months but for years, all that one gets in an editorial office is a big yawn. ?So, what'snext?? would be the bored comment. Cases may be pending before courts for years. Hardly anybody cares. It took President Pratibha Patil to voice her distress the other day for the media to wake up. And it happened while she was inaugurating a national seminar on judicial reforms organised in Delhi by the Confederation of Indian Bar. ?We cannot allow a situation where a common man is tempted to take the law into his own hands and subscribe to the deviant culture of the lynch mob?, she said in her inaugural speech. And how right she is!
The situation is just horrendous. The total number of pending cases in the apex court?the Supreme Court, that is?as on June 30, 2007 stood at 43, 580?according to Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, the number actually is around 60,000?and there are just 22 judges to deal with them. The government has sanctioned 26 judges but, according to one account, it is unlikely that all the 26 posts will be filled by November 10, 2008. But what is the situation in other courts? As compiled by the Supreme Court Administration, the burden of cases in the 21 High Courts in the country increased by 1.17 lakh between April 1, 2006 and March 31, 2007. The total number of pending cases as on March 31, 2007 with the High Courts was recorded at 36.78 lakh as compared to 35.60 lakh in 2006. The increase was recorded despite the High Courts disposing 3.78 lakh cases between 2006 and 2007. As for the lower courts, the situation is plainly frightening. As of April 1, 2007, the lower courts had 2.49 crore cases pending, in spite of 38.97 lakh disposals.
Litigants are the ones to suffer the most. Lawyers are the ones to gain. The public isn'teven aware of what the situation is like. There are presently 142 vacant posts of High Court judgeships and over 2,700 vacancies in the lower courts. Why aren'tthey filled? There are any number of law colleges in the country, not to speak of practicing lawyers. Can'tsome of them at least be recruited? Are all those practicing lawyers so much in demand and making so much money that judicial appointments do not attract them? Or is it that no attempt has been made to recruit them? In just one year, the number of registered cases showed an increase of 8.76 lakh.
But it does not seem to matter to our slumbering government. Actually, according to official figures, there are 3,031 vacancies at the level of district and subordinate judgeships. Of the sanctioned strength of 792 in the High Courts, there are reportedly as many as 206 vacancies. It should be possible to fill in all vacancies inside a week if a real effort is made and salaries are attractive. Salaries have necessarily to be high, commensurate with the dignity of the post. This is seldom taken into accent. Today, even newly graduated M.B.A. gets better paid than a judge. We must have a better sense of values.
India'sindifference to the dispensation of justice has to be pointed out in sheer terms, to feel disgusted with governance. In India there are 13.05 judges per million people as against 58 in Australia, 75 in Canada, 100 in the United Kingdom and 130 in the United States. The Law Commission of India has recommended increasing the strength of judgeships to at least 50 per million people to match as close as possible to conditions in Australia. What successive governments in Delhi have apparently not realised is that justice delayed is justice denied. It is claimed?though statistics are not available?that in several instances, litigants have passed away. Money, surely, cannot be the main problem. If the Congress in its largesse can sanction Rs 60,000 crore to mitigate farmers? woes, surely it can spend a fraction of that sum in appointment some three thousand odd judges at the district and subordinate levels? But yes, that won'tfetch votes for a beleaguered party bereft of both leadership and social commitment. Delivering justice is less important than marshalling votes.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram'scynicism is inexplicable. According to The Tribune (February 22) ?the Supreme Court in the past two years had witnessed a sharp increase in its pendency and it is estimated to have crossed the 60,000 mark??. Shocking, unbelievable, but nevertheless true. It is not that there are no experienced lawyers who can take over judgeships. Besides, there must be hundreds of retired judges at all levels whose expert services could be availed of, considering the situation prevailing. Even as matters stand, it is claimed judgements can be expedited by demanding written arguments in advance to cut down on time. Cases can be heard in the evenings at specially appointed courts; there can be travelling courts to facilitate hearings at rural levels. Panchayats can be used to settle simpler disputes.
It is reported that there are several lakh cases of bounced cheques in the High Courts which can be disposed of without elaborate argumentation. The government can put in place a structured arbitration process and facilitate out-of-court settlements. What is lacking is a will to expedite justice. In an era of high technology, judges can sit in tie offices, go quickly through the papers and deliver their judgments. How many judges, one would like to know, have access to computers and computer-savvy staff to study cases at their own leisure?
Shri Chidambaram, no doubt, will argue that the till is empty and he has no money to spare. What he would thereby mean is that he has given plenty to the middle class citizen to buy two-wheelers, coconut water and pav bhaji for him to have money to quicken the delivery of justice. Chidambaram is a good boy. He wants mamma'spat on the back to retain his job. Hasn'the produced a ?revolutionary budget? that has all things to all people? We have a cynical government and a servile media. Justice? Now what is that? It is wiser not to demand anything from the UPA government lest one is disappointed. If cases are pending for twenty years, so be it. If litigants die before justice is delivered, so be it. For the Congress it is more important to stay in power. And who does the poor Indian seeking justice think he is to question that? What can one expect from a party that wants to stay on in power even after being publicly slapped on the face by a recalcitrant Communist Party (Marxist)?