India, having surpassed China to be the most populous country, is the largest democracy across the globe. As it holds a tremendous amount of population, disputes and altercations between masses are inevitable considering human tendencies. In addition, resorting to thefts, extortions, robbery and other such crimes by some segments of society to make the ends meet is quite obvious and natural considering the population volume. Keeping aside the population factor and emphasising the democracy factor, people residing in India are vested with the right to seek the aid of the judicial system, as and when they feel like having suffered a legal injury. This legal injury ranges from a mere trespass to a heinous rape. Gone are the times when people hesitated in bringing any matter to the courts and when people opted for informal settlements even if it led to undesirable results. The citizens of today, even those from the rural strata of society, no more consider the courts as the last resort. Even family disputes including those of marriage, divorce, child custody etc find a high frequency in the courts.
As the cases rise in number, so does the pendency of cases.“As of May 2022, over 4.7 crore cases are pending in courts across different levels of the judiciary. Of them, 87.4% are pending in subordinate courts, 12.4% in High Courts, while nearly 1,82,000 cases have been pending for over 30 years.” There have been numerous heated debates around this topic of pendency. Applying the very basic mathematics, as the population increase is at its peak, the probability and frequency of crimes increase fairly and so does the number of cases filed before the courts. As the cases before the courts increase, the pendency is bound to increase. The rationale behind this analogy is that the pace with which the population and the number of cases filed are elevating, the number of new inductions in the judiciary is not following the same pace. Analysing the scenario, the percentage increase in the number of judges is not proportionate to the increase in the number of cases which ultimately leads to an increase in the overall pendency of cases. Moreover, talking about India in specific, innumerable advocates for the sake of monetary benefits file frivolous cases on demand of their clients. This saga of frivolous and baseless cases adds to the already mounting pendency. Not only the practising lawyers, but the police officers, too, take their shot at filing frivolous cases against innocent people. The reason may be political pressure or, yet again, monetary benefits.
IMPACT OF COVID
Then comes the Covid outbreak, aggravating the situation further.“According to the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), a government platform monitoring judicial data, the backlog of cases in district courts saw a sharp increase of 18.2 per cent between December 31, 2019, and December 31, 2020.” Indian judiciary was already struggling with the ever-increasing pendency when the pandemic deteriorated the backlog. The switch from physical hearings to virtual ones, while being an excellent substitute for the time being, was a paradigm shift for everyone.
THE INDIAN CONTEXT
Decade-long pendencies rob justice of its actual essence. These long tenures diminish the once-very-strong want for justice. While people repose their faith and confidence in the Indian judiciary, the long span of justice delivery may make them question their faith. But this does not mean that the masses no longer believe that the courts will do them right at the appropriate time. Pendency, while being an area that demands concern and attention, is not an extraordinary and severely acute problem. For a country as large a democracy as India, the pendency statistics are normal. Many speakers participating in debates held on TV channels pick up the issue of pending cases with full vigour and outrightly question the working of the judicial system, having failed to consider these pendencies, particularly in the context of India. If talked about in a generalised way, these numbers may seem horrific but as soon as we delve into the specifications and talk about India in particular, the same numbers start seeming normal. Such personalities, insisting upon very quick disposal of every case, overlook the necessity of following the due procedure of law. Pronouncing a judgement, needless to say, demands deep focus on every nuance. If pendency robs justice of its essence, pronouncing judgement based on some irrational timelines and focusing merely on quick disposals rob it of its essence as well. Constant insisting upon early disposals gives birth to high chances of errors in judgements which will eventually entail appeals, therefore, leading to the rise of another case. Hence, this idea of reduction of pendency may, on the contrary, result in multiplicity.
DOES IT HINDER SOCIETAL GROWTH
Pendency is definitely not a threat to societal growth because it is something that will forever remain in the system, it always did and it always will. The basic contention behind this is that it is humanly impossible to dispose off the cases right away. A case revolving around murder cannot be dealt with in a week or so. But at the same time, it cannot be denied that pendency is not really an excellent indication as well. So, the emphasis should not be on the complete eradication of the pendencies, the idea being entirely unfeasible, but rather attempts for downfall in the pendency numbers should be focused upon.
CONCLUSION & SUGGESTIONS
As stated above, the pendency of cases is inevitable, especially in a country like India. But the pendency percentage can definitely be decreased. The central question that comes up is HOW?
- Increasing the induction numbers of judicial officers
Simply enough, pendency occurs due to the excessive caseload of judicial officers. Hence, a feasible way that could possibly result in the reduction in pendency numbers is increasing the intake of new inductions in the judicial department. Needless to say, this move will reduce the caseload which in turn would reduce the pendencies.
- An authority to detect frivolous cases
Another way that could work pretty well for India is the formation of an authority which has the detection of frivolous cases as its function. To simplify, a committee should be created constituting experts from the legal field. These experts may include retired judges or advocates having great experience in the field of litigation. Civil suits, before reaching the judicial officer, should be looked at by the committee. The cases that have high probability of getting outrightly rejected due to lack of rationality, logic or authenticity or that appear frivolous should be dealt with by this committee. The committee should form a comprehensive report containing the reasons and facts which led to its suspicion of being frivolous. The report should then be sent to the judicial officer, who would decide if the case is entertainable. This would break down the whole long process and the judicial officer would just have to refer to the report instead of hearing the case right from the beginning.
In the conclusion, pendency is not really an obstacle in holistic societal growth but efforts should continue to be made to lower the percentage of cases pending before the courts.
Author(s) Name: Ravneet Kaur (Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab)
Sumeda, ‘Over 47 million cases pending in courts: Clogged state of Indian judiciary’ (The Hindu, 10 May 2022) <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/indian-judiciary-pendency-data-courts-statistics-explain-judges-ramana-chief-justiceundertrials/article65378182.ece> accessed 10 January 2023
Apurva Vishwanath, ‘Pandemic impact: Record pendency of cases at all levels of judiciary’ (The Indian Express, 27 March 2021) <https://indianexpress.com/article/india/pandemic-impact-record-pendency-of-cases-at-all-levels-of-judiciary-7247271/> accessed 10 January 2023