Insights into Editorial: The hard realities of India’s fast-track courts
Recently, Minister for Women and Child Development, informed the Rajya Sabha that the government has proposed to set up 1,023 fast-track courts to clear the cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court in a suo motu petition had issued directions, stating that districts with more than 100 cases pending under the POCSO Act need to set up special courts that can deal specifically with these cases.
Increasing the number of courts as a recourse to deal with the mounting backlog has been a common practice.
According to a recently released report by the Ministry of Law and Justice, Department of Justice in June 2019, there were 581 FTCs operational in the country, with approximately 5.9 lakh pending cases.
Fast-track courts (FTCs) in India:
A ‘special court’ is one which is to deal with special types of cases under a shortened and simplified procedure.
The 11th Finance Commission had recommended a scheme for the establishment of 1734 FTCs for the expeditious disposal of cases pending in the lower courts. Fast-track courts (FTCs) are created primarily to deal with the judicial backlog.
At the end of March, 2019 there were 581 FTCs operational in the country, with approximately 5.9 lakh pending cases. Uttar Pradesh has the most number of cases.
However, 56% of the States and Union Territories, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, had no FTCs.
In terms of money, Rs. 870 crore was released by the Centre between 2000-2001 and 2010-2011 towards these FTCs.
Subordinate courts has the highest pendency of cases:
The subordinate courts account for over 86% pendency of cases, followed by 13.8% pendency before the 24 High Courts. The remaining 0.2% of cases are pending with the Supreme Court.
The main reasons for the long delay in the disposal of cases is the high number of vacancies in position for judges in the High Courts and the District Courts of the country.
The court has put the actual figure at 5,133 out 22,036 sanctioned posts. There are more than 5,000 vacancies in the subordinate courts.
Problem is with systemic issues:
However, while large sums of money and attention are being devoted to creating additional posts, little is being done to identify and address the prevalent systemic issues.
Without fully optimising the current mechanisms and resolving the problems, sanctioning more judges may not provide the intended results.
There is a huge variation in the kinds of cases handled by these courts across States.
Certain States primarily allocate rape and sexual offence cases to FTCs and other States allocate various other matters.
Further, several FTCs lacked technological resources to conduct audio and video recordings of the victims and many of them did not have regular staff.
According to the latest ‘National Judicial Data Grid statistics’, as of April 2018, there are over three crore cases pending across the Supreme Court, the High Courts, and the subordinate courts.
Rationalisation of judicial structures:
Fast-track courts and special courts are administered under different judicial bodies, with little coordination or uniformity among them.
Therefore, a lead agency to be established by Central and State Governments to review the functioning of courts in a systematic and streamlined manner.
The training of staff as per the demand of FTC is need of the hour. The FTCs must be provided with the adequate infrastructure to provide justice in a fair way and reduce the pendency of cases.
For the FTCs to become successful, States will need to take stock of the issues at the ground level. States should engage with the principal and senior district judges to get a sense of issues the courts are facing in various districts.
Identifying systemic issues and addressing the concerns is as important for timely disposal of cases as increasing the number of judges.
The factors that have an impact on disposal of cases in judiciary include inadequate staff and IT infrastructure like delay in getting reports from the understaffed forensic science laboratories, frivolous adjournments, over-listing of cases in the cause list
Also, given the vacancies in subordinate courts, it is to be seen if States would hire additional judges or appoint FTCs from the current pool of judges.
The latter could prove to be problematic as it would increase substantially the workload of the remaining judges.
Equal attention must be paid to both the metropolitan and far-flung non-metropolitan areas.
For the overall system to work productively, it is important to ensure that its various components work efficiently and without any hindrance.