Bihar, UP and Odisha account for the bulk of highly-stressed district courts, shows an analysis based on parameters including pendency rate, infra deficit
It is often said that in court cases in India, the process itself is the punishment. However, how torturous and long-drawn this process can be varies dramatically across the courts of the country, a Mint analysis of district-wise court data suggests.
The analysis shows that Bihar, Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Odisha account for the bulk of highly-stressed courts in the country. Of the 50 most stressed districts, 45 lie in these three states. Courts in the north-western parts of the country appear to be least stressed.
The analysis is based on a Judicial Stress Index (JSI), which captures the pendency rate, court infrastructure deficit, and population-adjusted case-load across districts.
The JSI is a normalized equally-weighted index of the three variables, with values closer to 0 indicating lower stress and those closer to 1 indicating higher stress. This analysis considers 544 district courts for which consistent data across the three categories is available.
The most stressed court in India is the Angul district court in Odisha with a score of 0.72, followed by the district courts of Lakhisarai (0.61) and Vaishali (0.60) in Bihar.
These districts are not isolated, the stress is endemic to the regions they are in.
The least stressed courts in India are Mohali (JSI score of 0.06), Chandigarh (JSI score of 0.07) and South Delhi district courts (JSI score of 0.08).
The least stressed courts lie in a belt in the northwestern part of the country stretching across Haryana, Punjab, and Chandigarh, and extending till Delhi.
Geographically, the most and least stressed courts seem to mirror the patterns of economic prosperity in the country.
States with the most stressed courts—such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Odisha—are also among the country’s poorest. Conversely, relatively prosperous states such as Punjab and Haryana have the least stressed courts.
The district JSI scores seem to broadly mirror the district poverty scores, as measured by the multidimensional poverty index, calculated by researchers at Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI), based on data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2015-16.
Across all of India’s district courts, around 36% of all cases have been pending for more than three years. This statistic, however, masks significant geographical variation across courts.
Of the district courts, 46, nearly all of which are spread across eastern and northern India, have more than half of their cases pending for more than three years.
Of these, 19 are in Uttar Pradesh with Deoria having highest pendency at 67%. Angul (66% pendency) and Khurda (64% pendency) in Odisha were the second and third worst districts in terms of pendency rates.
Bihar and Odisha account for 14 and 9 district courts respectively in this list.
Among 69 courts that have less than 10% of cases pending for more than three years, three-fifths are in Haryana (21), Punjab (20), and Uttarakhand (8).
Courts in Champawat (Uttarakhand), Gangtok (Uttarakhand) and Nuh (Haryana) have the lowest pendency rates, with less than 2.5% of their cases pending for more than three years.
On an average, district courts in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu also have higher pendency rates compared to the national average, the data shows.
Another important reason for judicial stress is the lack of adequate infrastructure. A composite measure of infrastructure includes measures of amenities (such as toilets), security, and accessibility.
A 2018 survey by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy of 665 district court complexes and responses from 6,650 litigants shows significant variation in infrastructure within states, with state capitals and urbanized centres faring better than the rest and hence scoring lower in terms of infrastructure deficit.
The district courts of Haryana, Punjab, Meghalaya, and Kerala featured in the highest quartile (top 25%) in terms of adequate infrastructure while those of Manipur, Bihar, and Rajasthan featured in the bottom quartile, the results of the survey published earlier this month show.
The other key factor influencing the wheels of justice is the population-adjusted court load (cases per 10,000 people). Four of the top ten district courts with the highest court load are in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR), perhaps in part because the national capital region attracts cases from elsewhere.
Top non-NCR districts in terms of court load include Kinnaur and Shimla in the state of Himachal Pradesh and Pathanamthitta, Thiruvananthapuram, and Kollam in Kerala.
Courts with the lightest load are in the north-east, with 13 out of the 20 lowest court loads in these states.
Chandel, Senapati, and Churachandpur in Manipur have the lowest court load in the country.
This indicator also shows that district courts in Uttar Pradesh and Odisha face similar court load as parts of Maharashtra and Kerala.
While courts in Kerala and Maharashtra are able to handle current case loads since they have low pendency rates and low infrastructure deficit, the courts in Uttar Pradesh and Odisha are not able to do so. This suggests that the district courts in the latter states need more attention and support.
Improving access to justice is not just an issue of equity, but is also important for the economy to run efficiently with quick dispute resolution.
As the economic survey published last month noted, improving capabilities of the lower judiciary may perhaps make the biggest improvement to the ease of doing business in India.
The survey argued that this could be the single most profitable investment India can make. To get the most out of such investments, it may be worth prioritizing the districts facing the highest judicial stress.