The backlog in Supreme Court can be cleared in five years at full sanctioned strength with an efficiency gain of 18%, says the Survey. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
The backlog in Supreme Court can be cleared in five years at full sanctioned strength with an efficiency gain of 18%, says the Survey. Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Reforms in judiciary can help improve the ease of doing biz

  • Increasing number of working days and setting up an administrative body may improve productivity, says Survey
  • The backlog in lower courts can be cleared in five years at full sanctioned strength with an efficiency gain of 24.5%

Increasing the number of working days in courts and establishing of the Indian Courts and Tribunal Services (ICTS) would help enhance productivity in the judiciary, according to the Economic Survey, 2019.

The Survey, however, cautions that increasing the number of working days may improve the productivity of the Supreme Court and of some high courts, but is unlikely to significantly impact lower courts.

“The Supreme Court’s official calendar for 2019 suggests that it would close for 49 days for summer vacations, 14 days for winter break, and a further 18 days for Holi, Diwali and Dussehra," says the Economic Survey.

After accounting for weekends and public holidays, this would leave 190 working days for the Supreme Court, it says.

In contrast, the average number of working days for high courts and subordinate courts are 232 and 244 respectively, it points out.

The Survey, however, points out that there is a great deal of variation between states, and many courts make up for vacations by working on Saturdays, and adds that “central government offices will be open for 244 working days in 2019".

The ICTS, the Economic Survey says, would focus on the administrative aspects of the legal system and technology deployment. The major role to be played by ICTS would be to provide administrative support functions needed by the judiciary and identify process inefficiencies and advise the judiciary on legal reforms.

The specialized service mentioned in the Survey will help implement process re-engineering and create a system to improve the administrative functions of the court.

The suggestions have been made against the backdrop of the huge number of pending cases in the courts as delays in contract enforcement and disposal resolution is “the single biggest hurdle" to the ease of doing business in India and putting the country on a high growth path.

The number of cases pending in courts have been increasing, says the report authored by Krishnamurthy V. Subramanian, chief economic adviser to the finance ministry. As many as 87.5% of the pending cases are in the district and subordinate courts, it points out.

The Economic Survey focuses on disposal time, pendency time, case types and case clearance rate. It points out that the Economic Survey 2018 had highlighted how measures such as the introduction of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code and the adoption of the goods and services tax have had a major impact on improving the ease of doing business in India and presented evidence that the backlog of cases that weighs down the judiciary, economic tribunals and the tax department, constrains economic growth.

The 2019 Survey analyses the requirement of additional judges and efficiency gains across the various levels of courts to achieve 100% clearance rate and eliminate pendency in the next five years.

The backlog in lower courts can be cleared in five years at full sanctioned strength with an efficiency gain of 24.5%, it says. At current working strength, it would take an efficiency gain of 58%.

With full sanctioned strength, high courts would need only 4.3% increase in efficiency to clear the backlog though, given the high vacancy rates; the required rate at current working strength is 68%. The corresponding numbers for the Supreme Court are 18% and 31%, respectively.

The report underlines that Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal require special attention. Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal have higher average disposal time in district and subordinate courts than the national average for both civil and criminal cases, according to the Survey, while Punjab and Delhi have the lowest average disposal time. These trends are consistent with the distribution of average pendency age across states. States in eastern India perform poorly though Gujarat also has higher disposal time, it says.

The problems of pendency of cases and low efficiency are “not insurmountable", according to the Survey.

“A case clearance rate of 100% (zero accumulation) can be achieved with the addition of merely 2,279 judges in the lower courts and 93 in high courts even without efficiency gains," said the report.

One major effort is the eCourts Mission Mode Project “that is being rolled out in phases by the ministry of law and justice", says the Survey.

“The digitalization of cases is now allowing stakeholders to keep track of individual cases and their evolving status. It is not possible yet to statistically measure the efficiency gains from this effort, but it is certainly a big step forward," the Survey says.

India continues to lag on the indicator for enforcing contracts, climbing only one rank from 164 to 163 in the latest Doing Business report of 2018, according to the Economic Survey. “In spite of a number of actions to expedite and improve the contract enforcement regime, economic activity is being affected by the long shadow of delays and pendency across the legal landscape," it added.