India’s capacity to deliver justice has serious deficits with under-capacity and gender imbalance plaguing police, prisons and the judiciary and fund 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.

The report that analysed trends in human resources, workload, diversity and infrastructure using publicly available data and information obtained under the Right to Information Act show that only about half of the 29 states have made an effort to reduce vacancies in police, judiciary and prisons over a five-year period, going by the latest available official data.

The ranking of states based on their capacity to deliver justice show that Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Punjab are top performers among large states while Goa, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh take the honors 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.

The report shows that women are poorly represented in police, constituting only 7% of the force in 2017. They accounted for 10% of the prison staff in 2016 and 26.5% of all judges in High Courts and subordinate courts in 2017-18.

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, says the report.

“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 0.75p in 2017-18. Punjab was the only large state where police, prison and judiciary spending has increased faster than the overall state spending.

Lack of financial management, poor training of lawyers and paralegal personnel and inadequate performance monitoring have affected the requirement of having a district legal service authority in 21 states, it said.

However, in granting legal aid, Lok Adalats have emerged as a popular alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism for citizens. This is regarded as an effective means to resolve cases at pre-litigation stage. In 2017-18, 7.85 million cases were disposed of countrywide by Lok Adalats of which 5.92 million cases were disposed of by the National Lok Adalat alone.

The share of women judges comes down from 28% in subordinate courts to about 11% in High Courts. In southern states, the ratio of women is better than in the north. Punjab has 39% of women at subordinate level while Telangana has the largest share of women in subordinate courts at 44%. Among smaller states, Goa has the largest share of women judges at subordinate level at 66%. (ends)

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