NEW DELHI : The first comprehensive analysis of India’s manpower and capacity for justice delivery has painted a bleak picture of the ecosystem in terms of its various elements —police, prisons and judiciary.

The country’s capacity to deliver justice has serious deficits with under-capacity and gender imbalance plaguing these three pillars and a funding crunch affecting state services like free legal aid, according to a ranking of states based on official data compiled by Tata Trusts and various NGOs. Law and order is a state subject.

Only about half of the 29 states (pre-J&K reorganization) have made any effort to reduce vacancies in police, judiciary and prisons over a five year period, the report said, on the basis of trends in human resources, workload, diversity and infrastructure using publicly available data and information obtained under the Right to Information Act.

Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Punjab are top performers among large states on their capacity to deliver justice, while Goa, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh take the honours among smaller states. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand have the lowest ranking among large states, while Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram have poor rankings among smaller states.

Women are poorly represented in police, constituting only 7% of the force in 2017. They accounted for 10% of prison staff in 2016 and 26.5% of judges in high courts and subordinate courts in 2017-18.

Japneet Kaur, a former Punjab and Haryana high court advocate said, “The gender imbalance is not restricted to the justice system but is prevalent in most of the professional spheres. Rather, as per the recent gender equality policy of the Punjab government it has become mandatory to include women judges in the local administrations committee of district judges. Such steps will bridge the gap."

Kaur, who is currently practising in the Supreme Court, added, “the Supreme court currently has three sitting women judges and this is unprecedented. So things are changing, the pace must be slow but the change is evident."

There is a high level of vacancies in the justice system ranging from 22% in police, 33-38.5% in prisons and 20-40% in judiciary, says the report, citing figures for 2016 and 2017. Prisons are over-occupied and 68% of the occupants are undertrials awaiting investigation, inquiry or trial.

“The legal aid system mandates that 80% of the Indian population is eligible to avail free legal services. But unfortunately, from the 1.25 billion population, only 15 million have been able to avail its benefit since 1995," says the report, adding that the per capita spend on legal aid was just 0.75 in 2017-18. Punjab was the only large state where police, prison and judiciary spending has increased faster than overall spending.

NITI Aayog vice chairman Rajiv Kumar said in a pre-recorded message at the release of the report that the ranking would encourage states to compete with one another for better governance.

Justice (retired) Madan B. Lokur, who was present on the occasion of the report’s release said the analysis was about the capacity for delivering justice, not about its quality.

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde said, “Justice delivery never has been a necessity for the government. In fact, justice has become an instrument of the state which acts as a post-facto justification for state action. The increase in literate population is contributing to the burden, as more people are going to the courts."

japnam.b@livemint.com

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