Several combined initiatives of the Union Government and States in close coordination with the judiciary at the apex and High Courts to reduce delays and expedite disposal of cases have failed to deliver justice to the beleaguered litigating people of India over the years since Independence in 1947. The result has been manifold increase in the pendency of cases. As of now, there are over 3.5 crore cases pending in our courts with more than 4000 vacancies of judicial officers (magistrates/judges) in subordinate judiciary comprising 14,249 sub-divisional and district courts across the country. Situation in High Courts is equally worrying. The number of vacancies at any time is high.
Looking at the myriad strides made in augmenting judicial infrastructure at all levels, pendency of cases are not reducing to the advantages of litigating public. What is holding up timely justice delivery is the chronic nexus between the Bench and the Bar in general and in the criminal cases justice delivery, the never-ending Bench-Bar-Police nexus. Such nexus, which is endemic, results in protracted delay in disposal of cases with frequent adjournments, delayed and shoddy investigation giving room to corruption in judicial administration with ever increasing costs to litigants, who continue to be fleeced to the maximum.
According to official sources, corruption in subordinate judiciary is very high. As for corruption in the higher judiciary comprising High Courts and the Supreme Court of India, the then Chief Justice of India Justice S.P. Varucha, credited for having introduced curative justice system in the apex court, had said there were 20 per cent corruption in higher judiciary, while inaugurating All India Conference of Judicial Officers at Cochin in 2000.
Currently, national mission for justice delivery and legal reforms is underway. It is intended to increase access by reducing delays and arrears in the system and enhancing accountability through structural changes and by setting performance standards and capacities. It aims at a well coordinated approach for phased liquidation of arrears and pendency of cases, with a better infrastructure for courts including computerization, increase in strength of subordinate judiciary, policy and legislative measures in the areas prone to excessive litigation, re-engineering of court procedure for fast disposal of cases, human resource development and legal education reforms under a time bound programme.
The Centre launched major thrust on judicial reforms in 1993 and it has since been continuing the process of improving the infrastructure for expeditious disposal and reducing pendency of cases. The pattern of financial assistance to States and Union Territories from initial 50:50 has since 2011-12 been changed to 75:25 for States and Union Territories and 90:10 for the North-Eastern States. Under this scheme, construction of court buildings and residential accommodation for judicial officers and judges of subordinate judiciary are covered.
Besides, E-Courts, computerization of district and sub-divisional courts, Gram Nyayalayas, computerized district court services and project progress monitoring system, model courts, access to justice for marginalized people, access to justice in North Eastern region and Jammu and Kashmir have been introduced and the process continues to be strengthened further. Fast track courts have also been set up. Added to these, gender sensitization has been introduced in the training module of judges to reduce biases against women and ensure fair justice to them. Tribunals for various specialized judicial services to the people have also been set up, the latest such tribunal being National Green Tribunal tasked to clean up environment and ensure ecological balance in the country.
Simultaneously, all the States have framed litigation policies to reduce government litigation in line with the Central litigation policy. They are also assessing impact of their litigation policies on proliferation of litigation by state agencies, the objective being reduction in government litigations. It’s noteworthy that the Governments, Central and States, are the biggest litigants and the courts across nation are clogged by such litigations.
Yet, all such strides made in augmenting judicial infrastructure to date have failed to reduce pendency of cases and expedite justice delivery. As a result, justice continues to be delayed and denied to the people. A reality check reveals stand still and logjam in the system. Breaking the logjam appears to be daunting and long drawn. In such circumstances, the way forward calls for breaking the nexus of vested interests of the Bench-Bar and for that matter the legal profession as such, making judiciary accountable to the people in our system of rule of law based democratic governance, making currently dysfunctional Bar Council effectively functional in the form of ensuring a modicum of discipline and ethics of the legal professionals and desirable legal educational reforms. In addition, Police needs to be freed from investigation and a separate dedicated investigation agency created in the States.
It’s time all stakeholders joined hands together to bring desired judicial reforms to ensure expeditious justice to the people lest the syndrome of mob justice should be taking over as has happened recently in Nagaland where people took law in their hands and lynched an alleged rapist in the broad day light thus exhibiting their perceptible loss of faith in the efficacy of our criminal justice system!