Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Massive pendency of cases in courts

Dr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao

Since Justice N.V. Ramana took over the position of Chief Justice of India, he is found talking about many things, both judicial and other, which are bothering the society and while doing so he is seemingly trying to restore the lost glory of the judiciary pro-active role of Judges in the society. Some of his words are soft suggestive to the concerned authorities, some are warning like to the politicians with proven criminal record and he has not spared the role of advocates and lower rung judicial officers while exhorting them to stuck to their specific duty and role assigned to them in their profession. His latest remarks on the non-cooperative attitude of CBI and Police in different cases are quite serious and he even questioned the attitude of the union government in not filling the positions in tribunals along with the non-completion of the procedure in appointing the permanent judges in various high courts.

As he is trying to address the problems facing the Indian judicial system another grave challenge in the form of massive pendency of cases in Indian courts is staring at him. A recent estimation of pending cases in courts revealed that the pendency has touched near 4 crore mark and that includes near 3 crore criminal cases and over one crore civil cases.  Out of them near 60% of cases are pending for less than 3 years and another 31 % are awaiting verdict for less than 10 years. Indian judiciary has the distinction of allowing some of the civil matters pending before them for over 30 years. As per NITI Aayog strategy paper of 2018 it will take over 324 years for to clear the cases at the current pace of case disposal exhibited by the courts. Who will survive that long to see the light of the day of zero pendency in courts? Can that ever become a reality? Without going into the real issues leading to the pendency of cases it will be difficult for ever to get out of that quagmire called pendency. All those involved in the cases starting from the petitioners, the prosecutors, advocates, court staff, judicial officers, at various levels, are all responsible in their own way for this pendency. Unfortunately none of them are ready to concede their own role in this record breaking pendency of cases. Each one of them have their own explanation to offer absolving themselves.

The recent observation of the Supreme Court of India that “collectively we making mockery of the judicial system” summarizes the predicament of the judiciary. The higher judiciary always blames the non-filling of the judicial officers at all the three tiers and the lack of infra-structure for the lower judiciary, such as proper buildings and other facilities, for this pendency. The large number of trivial, miscellaneous cases are shown as the cause by the highest court as the reason that prevented the top court from deciding the ones that really matters to those waiting for the final verdicts of their long pending matters. Supreme Court said it knew the agonizing waiting period from the litigant to know whether he was right or wrong in the eyes of law. What does the litigant do with a judgment that takes 10 years or 20 years was the question posed to itself by the SC bench.

Some argue that awareness of law and socio-economic progress of the society and some acts like RTI extending the scope for approaching the courts, filing PIL culture, vague drafting of the Laws and their multiple interpretations by various courts are some of the reasons for pendency. Filing the petitions on trivial issues, sometime encouraged by the lawyers, and forgetting them to pursue further was one of the causes for mounting backlog. The low quality of judiciary at the lower level is also seen as the reason. The casual way of admitting the petitions is seen as the failure at the lower courts. Instead of going through the ingredients and admissibility of the petition at the initial stage itself the judicial officers are allowing many cases to be recorded though they deserved to be dismissed at the admission stage itself. The failure of the courts to review periodically the pending cases and analyzing the reasons for their pendency is resulting in the mounting number of cases in courts.

Large amount of time of courts is taken up absenteeism and adjournments. The advocates either under pressure from the clients or on their volition seek adjournment and the Indian judges are known to liberally sanction the adjournment. This issue has come up before the Delhi High Court recently where the judges reportedly chided the junior advocate who sought adjournment on behalf of his senior who is otherwise engaged. The judge’s observation that “judges are under oath to dispose the cases and not for offering liberal adjournments” should be a wakeup call for judicial officers at every level. The curbing of the adjournments culture will go a long way in speedy disposal of the cases and thus reduce the pendency.

The serious flaw in functioning of prosecuting agencies including the premier investigating agency CBI in not perusing cases, with all the seriousness, involving the politicians has come to light and it was commented on by the Supreme Court. By not showing the desired keenness in punishing the culprit, if he is highly placed or moneyed, the prosecutors and judiciary are collectively losing the confidence of the common man. With the timely delivery of justice not assured there are many areas where local goons or politicians are approached by the common man for settling their cases. Though the justice may not be fair in such cases but it is certainly speedy compared to the routine judicial route was the satisfaction of common man.

Now that new Chief Justice N.V. Ramana is making all right moves through his observations and interventions and seriously perusing with the Law ministry in filling the vacancies in various high courts. One hopes he will find out some tangible solution to this massive pendency of cases in the courts.

(Author is retired professor and occasional contributor for dailies and magazines on politics and environmental issues. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])

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