New Delhi: The Supreme Court is disposing pending cases at a faster rate, according to data released by the Ministry of Law and Justice on Thursday. While a staggering 59,468 cases are pending before the Supreme Court as of 19 February, the court’s efforts to dispose these cases is showing results.

Chief justice T.S. Thakur, in his first public appearance after entering office, had asked critics of judiciary to focus on court’s high disposal rates instead of pendency. In 2015, the top court disposed 47,424 cases compared to 45,042 in 2014 and 40,189 in 2013.

Thakur had made it clear that clearing judicial pendency is “top priority".

“Reducing pendency is a top priority but all cases that are pending in courts are arrears. Those beyond the gestation period should be counted as arrears," he said.

As a part of Justice Thakur’s plan to reduce backlog of cases, regular hearings by 5-judge benches and 3-judge benches of the Supreme Court are being scheduled every Monday and Friday from 2pm to 4pm from 11 January onwards. The Constitution benches have since disposed two cases. A total of 30 Constitution cases, which need to be heard by at least five judges, are currently pending before the court.

The government data also showed that only 84 criminal and 1,132 civil cases are pending before the apex court for more than 10 years as of 19 February.

However, the figures might not be as positive for the high courts and lower judiciary. A total of 4,207,903—3,116,492 of which are civil cases and 1,037,465 criminal—are pending before 24 high courts across the country as of 31 December 2014. Out of these, 777,630 or about 18.48% are pending for over 10 years or more. The district courts paint a darker picture with 26,488,405 cases pending as of 31 December 2014. Out of this, over 68.91% or 18,254,124 are criminal in nature.

The ministry listed increasing number of state and central legislations, accumulation of first appeals, continuation of ordinary civil jurisdiction in some of the high courts, vacancies of judges, appeals against orders of quasi-judicial forums going to high courts, number of revisions/appeals, frequent adjournments, indiscriminate use of writ jurisdiction, lack of adequate arrangement to monitor, track and bunch cases for hearing as reasons for pendency.

Of all the factors, vacancies in judiciary stand out. The apex court is itself running short of its approved strength by six judges. According to the ministry, as of 29 February, 464 vacancies of judges exist in various high courts across the country. Just the Allahabad high court has to fill up 88 judge vacancies to reach its full strength.

The Chief Justices’ Conference held on 3 and 4 April 2015 has resolved that each high court shall establish an arrears committee to clear the backlog of cases pending for more than five years.

Judge population ratio in the country works out to be 17.72 judges/judicial officers per million population. In 2002, based on a comparative assessment of the position in other countries, the top court decided in the All India Judge’s Association case that the ratio must be 50 judges for a million people in the country.

On 16 October last year, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court struck down the Constitution Amendment Act, which introduced a six-member panel called the National Judicial Appointments Commission. Declaring the earlier system of judicial appointments as revived, the court then asked for responses from various stakeholders on whether the collegium system required improvement.

Hindustan Times reported in January that the Supreme Court collegium will appoint over 400 high court judges, five in the apex court.

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