The biggest culprit behind the piling up of cases in courts is the government, say jurists. Law Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda says he has a solution to at least a part of the problem. His ministry is preparing a National Litigation Policy, which will reduce litigation involving the government. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Gowda says the government has requested the Chief Justice of India to resume the functioning of the collegium system as per the old Memorandum of Procedure (MoP). Excerpts:
How serious is the government about the pendency of cases?
Pendency has been declining for the last one and a half years. In the Supreme Court, 66,692 cases were pending in 2012. As on November 30, 2015, it had come down to 58,879. It may be marginal, but there is a decline in spite of the large number of vacancies and other issues. In 2012, the pendency was 44.34 lakh in the High Courts. In 2014, it was 41.53 lakh. Pendency was reduced by two lakh despite cases being filed continuously. This shows that the rate of disposal of cases is going up. In the district and subordinate courts, the pendency was 2.86 crore in 2012. It was reduced to 2.64 crore in 2014.
What steps are being taken to reduce pendency?
Several. We have had pendency reduction drives in the last four years. In the chief justices' conference in 2015, we requested the chief justices and the chief ministers to establish arrears committees. Several High Courts have done it. Mega lok adalats have been held. Last year, 44 lakh cases were disposed of in mega lok adalats. Weekly and monthly lok adalats are being held.
Obsolete and redundant laws used to create confusion and pendency. We have identified 1,741 such laws and we have placed four bills before Parliament to do away with them. Two of these bills have been passed. About 1,240 enactments, which are not in use, have been eliminated.
Judges have to deal with very poor infrastructure.
We have emphasised on the e-courts project. We have already computerised 13,273 courts. Phase II of the e-courts mission mode project, with a cost of 01,670 crore, is already under way. We have given a lot of importance to infrastructure development. 03,594 crore has been provided in the last five years under a centrally sponsored scheme for infrastructure development. We are also focusing on increasing the manpower in the judiciary.
Legislative initiatives have been taken for timely disposal of cases. The Commercial Courts Act has been passed to ensure timely disposal of commercial disputes. If a case is disposed of within six months, some incentives will be given to the arbitrator. We have given importance to judicial infrastructure, too. If there are not enough facilities, they cannot run the show. At present, 15,558 court halls are available; another 2,679 court halls are under construction.
Vacancies of judges have been cited as a major reason for the pendency.
At present, in the Supreme Court, there are four vacancies. There were 426 vacancies in the High Courts as on November 10, 2015, of a total approved strength of 1,029. There are a large number of vacancies in the subordinate courts also. Of a total strength of 20,358, around 15,360 posts are occupied. In the last chief justices' and chief ministers' conference, we requested all chief justices to fill up these vacancies at the earliest.
The stalemate over the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) contributed to the vacancies.
As the NJAC was struck down by the Supreme Court, we are preparing a new MoP [for appointment of judges by the collegium]. We have concurred with the honourable Chief Justice of India that the names which are already in the pipeline are cleared. Several names had come while the case was being heard in the Supreme Court, and we said that these could be cleared as per the earlier MoP. We do not want vacancies to pile up. Even though the Supreme Court observed that there are certain lacunae in the earlier MoP, we said the names which have already come from various High Courts could be processed as per the earlier MoP. About 150 names are there.
India has one of the worst judge-population ratios.
We have enhanced the number of judges in High Courts and subordinate courts by 25 per cent. At one go, we cannot double the number. An increase of another 25 per cent is the need of the hour.
The government is the biggest litigant.
Our National Litigation Policy is ready. It has to be approved by the cabinet. In it, we have made it very clear that if there is a dispute between two departments or public sector undertakings, the matter should not go to the court. It should be settled at the ministerial level.
Ultimately, if at all there are certain legal issues, the cabinet secretary will look into the matter, and it will go to the court only if the court’s opinion is required.