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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : India’s crushing court backlogs, out-of-the box reform


Source: The Hindu, The Hindu


  • Prelims: Supreme Court, collegium system, NJAC, CJI etc
  • Mains GS Paper I and II: Structure, organization and functioning of judiciary, Issues with the collegium system etc


  • The Chief Justice of India stated that increasing the number of judges will not demolish the perennial problem of pendency.
    • The Chairman of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice has called for out-of-the-box thinking to solve the problem.



Vacancies in the Indian Judiciary at various levels:

  • Out of 1,100 judges in various high courts in the country, there are about 400 to 500 posts vacant all the time
  • The lower judiciary presently has around 5,300 seats vacant – over 20% of its capacity
  • These vacancies are important as around 1 crores of pending cases are before these courts
  • Union Ministry of Law and Justice publishes a comprehensive dataset every month noting vacancies in the Supreme Court and High Courts
    • It has no similar mechanism for the lower courts


How many judges do we need?

  • The Law Commission of India (1987) noted the importance of manpower planning for the judiciary.
  • The lack of an adequate number of judges means a greater workload per judge.
    • Thus, it becomes essential to arrive at an optimal judge strength to deal with pending and new cases in courts.


  • The “extra burden” has reduced the efficacy of justice administration.
  • The government’s zeroing in on bail applications as one of the reasons for slow justice.
    • It comes at a time when 10 bail pleas are heard every day by all 13 Benches of the Supreme Court.


Statistics of pendency of cases:

  • There are 498 Constitution Bench cases pending in the Supreme Court as of December 13, 2022.
  • Public litigations claim a large portion of the court’s space with 2,870 of them pending.
  • Special leave petitions and writ petitions amount to 4,331 and 2,209
  • Election matters: There are 487 pending election matters in the top court.
  • Crimes against women relating to “harassment, dowry cruelty and death, eve teasing, domestic violence” are 283(data from the Integrated Case Management Information System).
  • Contempt of court cases alone number 1,295 in the Supreme Court as on December 16, 2022.


Reason for increase in cases:

  • Increase in the population of the country
  • Awareness among the public about their rights
  • Filing of fresh cases is also increasing by leaps and bounds.
  • Vacancies of judges
  • Frequent adjournments
  • Lack of adequate arrangements to monitor, track and bunch cases for hearing


Factors needed for timely disposal of cases:

  • Availability of adequate number of judges and judicial officers
  • Supporting court staff and physical infrastructure
  • Complexity of facts involved
  • Nature of evidence
  • Cooperation of stakeholders
  • Proper application of rules and procedures.


Solutions for large pendency of cases:

  • Bring back retired Supreme Court judges to hear admission of Special Leave Petitions:
    • Many SC judges are in fine fettle at 65 when they retire, and this is better work for them than arbitrations where they become subject to scrutiny by District Judges.
    • working hours and schedules can be flexibly designed for retired judges to operate.
    • This will enable the current judges to take up important cases in adequate Bench strength and composition.
  • Senior advocates as judges: Have a scheme by which experienced High Court senior advocates sit as judges once a week to hear matters from another State High Court.
  • Strengthen online justice: Enabling ad hoc judges to work online from home with minimum support staff is an excellent harness of human and technology resources.
    • It will enable a vast number of cases to be disposed of.
  • Employ mediation as a method of dispute resolution:
    • It covers a wide range, from personal and matrimonial to civil and commercial and property disputes.
    • Most mediation centers have a success rate of over 50%, several much more
    • Use mediation as a central peg of reform: Devise and implement sensible policies and strategies to encourage resort to it
    • Make it a professionally attractive career option for mediators who are willing to make a living by being peacemakers.


Importance of mediation:

  • It costs much less than a normal litigation process.
  • Time: It takes a fraction of the time litigation does
  • Settlements: It brings about settlements which all sides can agree to.
  • Eliminates appeals and is easy to enforce if necessary.


Way Forward

  • An Indian Mediation Service can be created on the lines of the judicial service.
    • Incentives and disincentives must be devised for existing and prospective litigants to try this consensual method in good faith.
  • Put to best use excellent available resources, technological and personal to make an impact.
    • Innovation and reform can succeed, a message that is much needed.
  • Sri Aurobindo in his great writing: “The Hour of God, the moment has arrived; but will we lose it because the lamp has not been kept trimmed for the welcome and the ears are sealed to the call”.
  • The Supreme Court is working towards reduction of pendency in a “multi-pronged” fashion: Constituting Vacation Benches in the summer break, formation of Special Benches to dispose of labor disputes, cases dealing with motor accidents, direct taxes, indirect taxes and old criminal appeals.



Q. Critically examine the Supreme Court’s judgment on ‘National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014’ with reference to appointment of judges of higher judiciary in India.(UPSC 2017) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)