Judiciary/Backlog of Cases : And the court is Adjourned…
Shortage of judges is not the only cause of growing backlog in courts. There are many other reasons which need to be dealt with collectively by Judiciary and Executive
Speaking at a conference attended by Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts, Chief Justice of India (CJI) TS Thakur broke down in front of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he said cases are piling up in various courts, but there aren’t enough judges to hear them. He lamented “inaction” by the Executive in increasing the number of judges from 21,000 to 40,000. According to him, this is the reason why the judiciary is unable to handle the “avalanche” of litigation.
|Five paisa and 40 years of legal
Ranvir Singh is a conductor in DTC. He was charged 40 years ago for charging 15 paise instead of 10 from a lady passenger. There was an internal inquiry and the committee recommended dismissal of Ranvir Singh. He was dismissed in 1976. Now he is 73. He won the case against his dismissal in 1990 in the Labour Court, but the Department did not take any compliance of it. Now the further legal battle in this case is pending in the Karkardooma court. The matter is listed for hearing on May 26. Ranvir has spent thousands of rupees in this case but with no positive gains.
It might be recalled that the Law Commission had recommended an increase in the number of judges from 10 judges per 10 lakh people to 50 judges in 1987. “This never happened,” he added. Following the Law Commission’s recommendations, the Supreme Court also supported increasing the strength of the judiciary in 2002. Even otherwise a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law headed by Pranab Mukherjee recommended increase the judge to people ratio from 10 to 50.
A minor accident and 16 years
One person was injured by a tempo driven by Mamchand in 2000 in Delhi's Madavali area. Police had registered the case under 279/338 of minor injury. Now, it is 16 years after that the incident the case is still pending for the want of witness. Sometimes the court is changed or the judge is shifted. Mamchand goes to the court on the date and comes back with the next date. The one who was injured has gone to Bihar. There could not be recording of witness and as a result only dates have been given in last 16 years during gthis case.
Cheque bounce case unresolved even after 13 years!
The High Court has ruled that cases related to cheque bouncing should be cleared within six months to one year. But, there are good numbers of such cases that are lingering on for years. They are known as ‘summary’’ trial and need to be cleared at the earliest. In Karkardooma court, a case of cheque bounce between Harbeer Singh and Pankaj Mishra has been pending since 2003. The accused Pankaj Mishra has to come to Delhi from Lucknow for each hearing date. So far, a number of metropolitan judges were shifted but the case is not resolved.
There are over 2 crore pending cases before District Courts including two-third criminal cases. At this rate, disposing off all pending cases would take at least ten years. Ten per cent of these cases have been pending for more than 10 years. In Gujarat, nearly 25 per cent of cases have been pending for over 10 years, while in Sikkim and Punjab about 1 per cent cases have been pending for over 10 years. 18 per cent of cases nationally have been pending for five to ten years and 30 per cent have been pending for two to five years. The largest–42 per cent of all cases– have been pending for less than two years.
|Poor Sunil Kumar died but the case continues!
In Delhi's Gokulpuri area an accident took place in 1994 involving one Sunil Kumar. The one who was hit by the vehicle received minor injuries. Police had registered a case under 279/337. The case was going on in the court for years, but with no results. Sometimes, for the want of inquiry officer or sometimes due to absence of the victim the case could not be resolved.
According to the latest figures released by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) almost 68 per cent of all inmates in the 1,387 jails in the country are under trials. Over 40 per cent of all under trials have been in jail for more than six months without being released on bail. The percentage of under trials, who remained in jail for more than three months has also gone up from 62 per cent to 65 per cent.
Pressure on Investigating Officer
In Delhi each police station has one SHO, Addl SHO, and Inspector (Investigation). The inspector rank officer normally probes cases related to murder. Besides, theft, snatching etc. are investigated by Inspector level officer. An officer of Delhi police told on condition of anonymity that an IO (Investigating Officer) has to deal with 15-20 cases. He has to look after law and order situation and file charge sheets in criminal cases. Many cases linger on for years. He has to be present at the court during this time. He is under pressure from the court for filing charge sheets in time. He has to go to the court for witness also. This shows how much pressure he has to take during his duty.
According to the NCRB, Goa, Jammu & Kashmir, Gujarat and Punjab are the worst performing states, with over 75 per cent under trials languishing in jail for over three months. Kerala and Tripura have the lowest—33-35% such cases. What are the reasons for such pending and piling cases is an interesting thing to analyse if we take up certain cases for discussion.
Shortage of Judges
The Supreme Court of India, despite an approved strength of 31 judges, has a shortage of five judges. The situation got even worse after Justice Vikramjit Sen retired after a three year term as a Supreme Court judge on December 30.
The High Courts are functioning with just 601 judges—against an approved strength of 1,044 judges. As per the data compiled by Law Ministry, 443 posts of judges are lying vacant in 24 High Courts. The High Courts of Andhra Pradesh/Telangana, Karnataka, Bombay, Gauhati, Gujarat, Patna, Punjab and Haryana and Rajasthan each are functioning without a regular Chief Justice. The High Courts with the largest number of unfulfilled vacancies include Punjab, Haryana, Calcutta, Andhra Pradesh and Bombay.
According to the Department of Justice, a total of 26,851,766 cases are pending in subordinate courts. 24 High Courts in the country have a backlog of 45 lakh pending cases. The number of pending cases across all—trial courts, High Courts and the Supreme Court—stands at 3.25 crore.
“The delay in the disposal of cases and their pendency is the single biggest challenge for India's legal system,” says YR Sadashiva Reddy, a practising senior advocate in Karnataka High Court and member of the Bar Council of India. According to him, the Karnataka High Court has a deficiency of 50 judges.
Likewise, the Jammu & Kashmir High Court is facing a shortage of judges. Against a total sanctioned strength of 17 judges, only eight judges are available in the High Court. All this is hampering the disposal and daily hearing of cases. Non-availability of judges is hampering the disposal of cases in J&K High Court. The existing judges are overburdened with cases. On a given day, over 100 cases are listed before a bench. It is virtually impossible for a judge to hear all the listed cases.
Allahabad High Court having the highest number of vacancies—86 judges, is operating with less than 50% sanctioned capacity. As a result, there are over one million cases pending in Allahabad High Court alone. Justice VV Rao, a judge at Andhra Pradesh High Court, created a stir recently by saying that Indian judiciary would take 320 years to clear the backlog of 31.28 million cases pending in various courts across the country.
Most of the under trials remain locked up due to their inability to secure bail. A large number of them are poor, underprivileged and people from the minority communities. Most of them are in jail as under trials because of the property-based bail system and a poor legal aid mechanism. India has a backlog of over three crore cases–more than the population of Australia, Netherlands and Cuba put together!
“The first thing the government has to do is to increase the number of judges and take other drastic measures to clear this mind-boggling backlog,” says JS Attri, a senior advocate. Another Senior Advocate of Supreme Court Jagdip Dhankar says, “For speedy justice several components will have to work in great harmony and unison. To have more judges is relevant but it is not end of it. What has happened in the last 20 years is that there has been no attention whatsoever on creating infrastructure that is vital for speedy adjudication of cases. During the UPA regime and earlier also, Fast Track Courts were created. The object was that if people are languishing in jails their cases will be treated by fast track courts. This created two problems. One, the quality of justice went down greatly. Secondly, there was fast track disposal only at the trial stage, not at the appellate stage. So, there was huge clogging of cases at the appellate or the High Courts.”
Case delayed for witness
In 2006, a girl was hurt and lost her two teeth as she was hit by a car driven by Sanjay Kumar of Delhi's Bhajanpura area. A case was registered in Bhajanpura Police Station. After inquiry, police had filed the charge sheet. The injured girl later was married and left Delhi. But the convict Sanjay Kuamr has to be present in the court on each date for the case. But the case was unresolved due to want of witness. Eight judges were changed in last 10 years. Sometimes, the enquiry officer remained absent or sometimes for some other reasons, but the case is still unresolved.
A Senior citizen’s woes
A senior citizen suffered a lot in getting his rented house vacated. In Delhi, if any one wants his house to be vacated under the Rent Control Act, he can do so by invoking 41E of the act. Such cases are supposed to be cleared in six month's time. The tenant has to submit 'leave to defend' in 10 days from the date he received the notice. Acting on that the court gives six month time to vacate the area. In this case one Rajkuamar had given vacation notice for his shop rented to Dr Shashi. In this case, the court took three years to get the place vacated. This senior citizen Rajkumar had to visit the court for three years and spent Rs two lakh in getting his own property vacated.
Legislature has taken a significant step like releasing a person on count of releasing an accused if he has undergone more than 50 per cent of imprisonment at the trial stage, but no court in the country has responded positively on this part, adds Shri Dhankar. Besides this, there are issues of technological upgradation of courts, optimum utilisation of court timings, strengthening alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, and most importantly restoring balance among the governmental organs.
Another important aspect related to judicial backlogs is the investigation system, which rests with the police machinery. Smt Vimla Mehra, former Special Commissioner of Delhi Police adds that shortage of policemen is
definitely there when we compare the phenomenal growth in crime and law and order problems. Expectations of people from the Police have also increased. She also feels that reason of delay in justice is slow pace of
judgement by judges. “If there is no timely disposal, the accumulation will continue. If disposal is smooth
there will be no problem. There is a need to look into the matter holistically and find out the ills wherever they are and cure them accordingly.
The judiciary should also introspect,” she adds.
Lack of adequate number of judges to handle the pending court cases is cited as one of the reasons for delays. Shortage of judges can be addressed through a two pronged strategy—filling up the existing vacancies and increasing the sanctioned strength of judges. As per Constitutional framework, selection and appointment of judges in subordinate courts is the responsibility of State Governments and High Courts.
The job has many attractions: the perks include government accommodation, leave travel allowance, medical benefits and more. Besides, a Sessions Judge in a Delhi court can also move up to become a judge in the Delhi High Court, which brings with it an even healthier pay packet and perks. This exam, spread over two days, tests the applicants’ knowledge of civil and criminal law, besides their general knowledge.
High Court of Delhi recently invited applications for Delhi Higher Judicial Service Examination 2015. The eligible candidates were asked to apply for the post on or before February 15, 2016. To be eligible a person should be 35-45 years of age and have practiced as an Advocate for not less than 7 years.
There are other factors that also contribute to the pile-up of cases. The infrastructure available for courts is inadequate. Many courts function from rented buildings. Nearly 7,000 proposals for building court houses are awaiting clearance from the state governments. The non-availability of judges has severely hit disposal of cases. The judges are severely overburdened with cases. “The non-availability of judges is one of the important causes for slow disposal of cases,” said a senior lawyer, adding that for speedy justice and quick disposal, availability of a good number of judges is a must. The United States has 151 judges per million of its population. Even China, with its 1.3 billion population has a far higher ratio of 170 judges per million people.
(The writer is a senior jounalist) with inputs from Pramod Kumar & Aditya Bhardwaj