Why pending court cases have been going up2 min read . Updated: 11 Feb 2019, 10:38 AM IST
The Indian legal system is facing a huge backlog of cases
There were about 3.93 million pending cases in the Supreme Court and high courts in 2015, according to government data
What is happening here?
The accompanying table shows that the number of pending cases in the Supreme Court has come down marginally, by 3.8% between 2015 and January 2019. In the 24 high courts across India, however, the number of outstanding cases has gone up by 375,402, or 9.7%, during the same period.
While the Allahabad high court, which has 726,000 pending cases, is right at the top of the list, the Rajasthan high court comes second with 449,000 pending cases.
Interestingly, the number of pending cases has gone up despite an increase in the number of sanctioned judges.
What’s behind the rise in pending cases?
The sanctioned strength of high court judges in May 2014 was 906, which was increased to 1,079 by December 2018. But the current working strength of judges is just 679, with 37% of the sanctioned strength vacant. Not surprisingly, outstanding court cases have gone up since 2015. While it’s important to raise the sanctioned strength, it’s also important to appoint judges to those posts. Responding to a question in the Lok Sabha recently, the government said: “The selection and appointment of judges in subordinate courts is the responsibility of the high courts and state governments concerned.”
What about lower courts?
As per the National Judicial Data Grid, more than 29.7 million civil and criminal cases are pending in the lower courts across the country. Two civil cases have been pending since 1951.
Do lower courts also face issues with vacancies?
Between the end of 2013 and end of 2018, the sanctioned strength of judicial officers in lower courts went up from 19,518 to 22,833. The working strength has increased from 15,115 to 17,701. This basically means that there is still a shortage of 5,132 judges, which has led to a huge increase in the number of pending cases in lower courts. Of the total 29.7 million cases pending in lower courts, nearly 20.5 million cases were added between 2015 and now.
How many cases do they dispose of annually?
In 2017 and 2018, the lower courts disposed of around 12.6 million and 13 million cases, respectively. Despite courts disposing of a huge number of cases every year, pending cases keep growing. In April 2017, the Nyaya Mitra Scheme was launched to appoint retired judicial officers to expedite disposal of cases pending for over 10 years. The government and the judiciary, however, must do much more to address the problem.
Vivek Kaul is an economist and the author of the Easy Money trilogy.