The Courts are so overburdened with pending cases that justice eludes the people for years. At present about 2.2 crore people are living in the hope of justice. That justice will be delivered to them in their life time appears to be a distant dream. How will they get justice is a big question for the country?
Ashish Kumar of Chandigarh saw his brother Vinod last in May 1994 when the police took him away. Since then there was no news about him. The case was handed over to CBI for investigation. The CBI investigations revealed that one officer called Saini was responsible for Vinod's death and the case of murder had been filed in 1994 itself. Vinod's mother, Amar Kaur, was then 72 and hoped for quick justice and punishment to the guilty. Amar Kaur is now 94. She can't even speak, hear and understand, but she is well aware of the fact that if the killer is a wealthy and influential, he can escape the Indian justice system easily.
Justice still is not delivered to Amar Kaur in the last 22 years. Due to old age, she can't even walk properly and comes to the court on all hearings on a stretcher thinking she would get justice before she dies. But we all know that Amar Kaur will not get justice at all.
Need for a change in judicial system
“In India we still follow the justice system instituted by the British rulers to dispose the cases. In this system the onus falls on the complainant to prove the allegations and in case of a minor mistake the case is dismissed. The judge has a limited role in this system. He can't institute an enquiry on his own. In the developed countries, the judge has to perform a major role and sees that the guilty is punished. In India, witnesses are habituated to falsehood in deposition. And they escape such falsehoods because the process is very lengthy and often the judges save them by initiating such process. In such justice system, those who don't tell the truth do not get the punishment and the system fails to deliver justice. The Indian law punishes any criminal only after the crime is proved. Many a criminals are freed on the advantage of doubt. This is not a good system. This encourages the criminals. This should change so that the justice system gets stronger.”
System miles away from common man
“In India, the courts are within the approach of the common man but justice eludes them in most cases. There was no openness in the judicial system before 1980. The common man could not have access to quick justice. He would only make cyclic visits to the court. The much needed openness came to the courts post 1980, but it became costly also. Thus, a common man can go up to the court but justice is out of bounds for him. Non-availability of justice is the most critical one in the country. When a common man fails to get justice, his belief in the system is shaken putting the social system in grave danger. Every year lakhs of lawyers join the profession, but none of them is available for the common litigant. All want to become corporate lawyers and are insensitive towards the poor. What is the use of such insensitive lawyers to the poor people?”
Like Amar Kaur, lakhs of people in India await for justice in their about 2.2 crore cases pending in various district courts. Sixty lakh of these cases are pending for five or more years. About 45 lakh cases are pending in various Higher Courts, while in the Supreme Court alone over 60,000 cases are pending for disposal and their number is dangerously increasing. A judge in Delhi High Court has over 100 cases every day to dispose and he has only 300 minutes to dispose them off. This means a High Court judge has hardly three minutes to dispose a case before him. The situation is worse in the district courts. The surging crowds outside the court rooms prevent the entry of people who come to attend their trial dates. Such crowds are visible in the High Courts and Supreme Court also.
|Heaps of Files
The Law Commission in 1987 had stated that there were 10.5 judges per one lakh population. Now this number has gone up to 13-14. In the UK, this proportion is 50.9, Canada 75.2, and in the USA it is 107 per cent. According to a report by Law Commission, in India there is requirement of 107 judges per 10 lakh population. Till December 31, 2015, there were 38.76 lakh pending cases in the High Courts and 2.18 crore cases in the District Courts. Out of these, 1.46 crore are criminal and 72 lakh are civil suits.
Cases can't be disposed off sans judges. In India, there are only 13 judges per 10 lakh people. This proportion is much lesser as compared to the developed countries, where there are over 50 judges per 10 lakh people. The working system of the courts has become such that lawyers seek dates after dates for their cases and the judges also grant their requests to complete their work of the day. In this process the country suffers the loss worth crores of rupees. Around Rs 15 to 20 lakh are required per month to spend on running a court. There are lakhs of courts in the country. We can estimate the quantum of expenses incurred in running the courts. Irony is that the Government of India allocates only 0.2 per cent of its total budget to judiciary, which is very meagre amount. This amount is very less even compare to the most developing countries of the world. The condition of Indian jails is even worse. The jails are overcrowded with 3 to 4 times more undertrials being put there. This is another aspect that the jails are fast becoming crime schools rather than reforms homes. According to an estimate, 80 to 90 per cent inmates in the jails belong to BPL category. They don't get justice and there is no hope for them to get justice.
The Supreme Court of India, which has the responsibility of rectifying the judicial system, remains closed for 43 days from May 16 to July 2 for summer vacation. Before 2013 this vacation used to be of 70 days. There are 43 holidays including religious and public occasions. Sundays and other holidays are not included in it. Even today, the SC remains closed for 103 days in a year. According to former Chief Justice of India Shri Lodha, out of total 365 days, the SC works for 193 days, HCs work for 210 days and District Courts work for 245 days.
There is grave shortage of judges in the judiciary and the government on the pretext of fund shortage is making the situation still murkier. The recent controversy over the appointment of judges indicates to the fact that our justice system is heading towards a slow death. Today the judiciary is on ventilator support. Its kidney, liver all are damaged. Judges are not being appointed on the government approved posts. In April 2016, there were six vacancies of judges in Supreme Court and 432 vacancies in High Courts. In the District Courts, there are 4,432 vacancies of judges, which is 25 per cent of the total approved number. There is one more reality that even if these vacancies are filled, they will not be able to work in view of only 16,513 rooms available for 20,502 judges in lower courts. There is shortage of 3,989 rooms. Can there be any other cruel joke on the entire judicial system of the country than this?
Confusion over number
There seems to be lot of confusion over the number of pending cases in India. The controversy is over the definition of these cases. In the 245 pages report of the Law Commission it is told that each High Court decides the number of pending cases in its own way. In the absence of a common scale to decide the pending cases, there is lot of confusion.
Justice is also delayed because of the outdated laws and this increases the number of pending cases. The government has identified 1,700 such laws and process to remove them is going on. There are worldwide efforts going on to speed up pending cases. Many rules have been framed to decide a time- limit for their disposal. In India, there is time limit for filing reply, ending depositions, etc. under the CPC, CrPC and other laws, but no legal time limit is set for disposal of cases.
In USA, the US Speedy Trial Act was framed in 1974. This law decided the legal limit of disposal of any case. Such an Act is dire necessity for India also. But in the absence of resources it seems to be a distant dream. It is difficult to infer who is responsible for this sorry state of affairs of Indian judicial system—society or justice system? Whatever may be the truth, we all are too dying with it. The judicial system dying and living daily is cursed one.
(The writer is a senior lawyer in Supreme Court of India and also
general secretary of Human Rights Defense International. Translated by Virag Pachpore)