India’s long tryst with judicial backlogs

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Joginder Singh
In the name of democracy and ensuring justice for all, every conceivable injury, whether intended or not, has become justiciable. New laws were being added, without deleting the old ones that were framed during the British era. The present Government has made a good beginning by deleting 1,159 obsolete laws as against 1,301 scrapped in the past 64 years.
Whatever law the Government may pass or delete, it makes no difference to the people in-charge of the law enforcement. Except for a few laws in which action has been taken or is liable to be taken, copies of most existing laws are not even available with either the police or the organisation charged with the enforcement of the same.
Some of my personal experience are worth recalling, the powers that be are ignorant of the existing ground realities. As the district police of Bidar, Karnataka, in 1965, I decided to test the knowledge of police officials – from constables and above – about the Mysore Police Act that was passed in 1963.
I asked a number of policemen about the Act. They said that they had not heard about it and were just aware of the Hyderabad Police Act that was in force from the days of the Nizam. Incidentally, my cadre of service was Mysore, now called Karnataka. My pension now is paid for by Karnataka Government. I then asked the Mysore police headquarters if they had supplied a copy of the Mysore Police Act to each policeman. The reply that I got was that everybody has to buy his copy. When I tried to argue, that it is the duty of the Government or the police headquarter, to provide for a copy, I got a dressing down.
Nevertheless, I persuaded the policemen to give 50 paisa each so that I could buy the latest Act applicable to the people and the police in Mysore State with my share of 50 paisa. Surely, other States in the country must not have been in a better position. This is prevalent even now.
A vast majority of cases come under the Indian Penal Code, wherein the evidence is to be collected in accordance with the Indian Evidence Act, as per the laws laid down in the Criminal Procedure Code. All the above three investigation laws are of the 1800s and need an overhaul. This is equally true with the laws passed by other Government departments, for all subjects.
It is commendable that the present Government has deleted ancient laws which have not been in use even once since independence. The criminal law above has been woven around the distrust of the main law enforcement agency that is the police. They do not trust even the topmost officers, with any confession made by the accused, which perhaps no where prevails in the world.
A New York Times report said, “On the basis of police per capita, India is the second lowest among 50 countries ranked using data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime from 2010. Police forces around the world are commonly measured as the number of police per 1,00,000 people, and India has 129. Only Uganda fares worse. While this ratio has not increased in India, due to the increase in population over the last decade, it remains far behind many other major economies. (The worldwide average is closer to 350).” Scotland, for example, has around 330 officers per 100,000; South Africa 327, the US 238 officers and Canada had 201, according to 2011 data. Not surprisingly, some studies suggest that adding police officers reduces crime. “A nation with a larger proportion of police officers is somewhat more likely to have a lower crime rate”, said a 2006 report by the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, which looked at law enforcement data from European countries. The number of female policewomen in India is 84,579 out of the total strength of 158,117 officers, or about five per cent of the total police force in 2011.
India’s judiciary is also under-staffed. The country’s judge-to-population ratio would be the fourth lowest in the world, if the country were included in a 2008 UN study that looked at 65 countries. Only Guatemala, Nicaragua and Kenya had a lower ratio than India, which only had 14 judges per million population in 2008.
A Law Ministry report said that the situation in the subordinate courts is getting worse with the number of judges’ posts vacant in the subordinate and district courts across the country crossing 5,000.
As of December 2015, the vacancies stand at 5,111 against a sanctioned strength of 21,303 judges in the subordinate judiciary. Gujarat, Bihar and Delhi rank among the States with the highest number of vacancies – about 40 per cent to 44 per cent.
In terms of numbers, the highest vacancy of judicial officers is in Gujarat at 794 against a sanctioned strength of 1,953, around 41 per cent of its sanctioned strength. This is followed by Bihar with 792 against a sanctioned strength of 1,825, about 43 per cent of its approved strength; Uttar Pradesh has 595 posts to be filled, but they account for just 25 per cent of its sanctioned strength of 2,394 judges. Lower courts in Delhi have 307 judges against a sanctioned strength of 793, which is around 39 per cent of its approved strength.
Subordinate courts account for at least 2.30 crore of a total of about 3.15 crore pending cases across the country. Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for 23 per cent of these cases. In mid-2015, an estimate had put vacancies in lower courts at around 4,400. The rise in vacancies are a cause of concern for the Centre since lower court judges are recruited through an examination conducted by State public service commissions or the respective high courts. Even in the High Courts, which have 464 judicial posts vacant against an approved strength of 1,079, the Centre merely plays the role of a post office, and in rare instances, it refers back recommendations made by the apex court collegium for reconsideration.
The current judges-to-population ratio, on the ground in our country is estimated at 12 judges for every million citizens – far lower than most developed and even developing countries in the world.
Currently, roughly the pendency of cases in the Supreme Court is around 60,000 matters and the figures in the various High Courts and subordinate judiciaries are around 40 lakh and 2.8 crore, respectively. Obviously, the justice for all, at present, is an illusion. There is an urgent need to improve the judicial and investigation infrastructure, apart from taking their number to a level, where nobody should have to wait for more than one year. It is a challenge for the present Government which has done well in other fields. The Government should cut down on litigation. Not more than two appeals should be allowed along with a maximum of five total adjournments in the appellate courts. Instead of setting more tribunals, more courts should be set up. There should be a finality in second court orders. These are drastic remedies. Instead of litigation with common citizens, the Government should not treat the fellow Indians as the opponent party. It should look within and rectify the situation. Of course, this does not apply in the case of fraudsters, cheats and criminals.
(The writer is former Director, Central Bureau of Investigation)

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