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Crisis revealed in India’s district courts

Crisis revealed in India’s district courts
As of today, there are more than 20 million cases pending in the district courts of India; two-thirds are criminal cases and one in 10 have been pending for more than 10 years, our analysis of National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) data has revealed.

More revelations:
* There is one judge for every 73,000 people in India, seven times worse than the United States.
* On an average, 1,350 cases are pending with each judge, who clears 43 cases per month.
* The rate at which cases are handled at the district courts, civil cases will never get cleared, and it will take more than 30 years to clear criminal cases.
This is a looming crisis and understanding where the problem lies is key to finding a solution.

Delhi has India’s worst people-to-judge ratio, other small states twice better than national average
Delhi stands out for having the worst people-to-judge ratio. While the national average is 73,000 people to a judge, Delhi is almost seven times worse with about 500,000 people to a judge. 

At the other end, smaller states and Union Territories such as Chandigarh, Goa, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Sikkim, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh have at least twice as many judges per person, compared to the national average.

Let us next look at the case burden on judges in each state. As expected, smaller states which have a better population-per-judge ratio perform better and the bigger states are worse off.

Uttar Pradesh stands out as the state with the maximum case burden on each judge, with about 2,500 cases pending per judge. That is almost twice the national average of 1,350 cases per judge.

Sikkim and Mizoram are the best performing states with 71 and 118 pending cases per judge respectively.

States with fewer judges and higher burdens have most cases pending for more than a decade.

Does the burden on judges translate into judicial delays?
We have mixed results. Smaller states and UTs such as Haryana, Sikkim, Chandigarh, Punjab, Mizoram, and Himachal Pradesh have less than one case pending for more than 10 years. Among states with the worst ratio, Gujarat heads the list with about one in 4 cases delayed by more than 10 years.

There is a correlation between the case burden on judges and population per judge. 

Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, and West Bengal, which have a greater burden and higher population per judge, also have a higher ratio of cases pending for more than 10 years.

Maharashtra builds a backlog of 100,000 cases every month; UP clears 44,500 per month
Next, let us look at the rate at which states are able to dispose of the cases each month. This is the number of cases disposed  minus the cases filed in that month. A positive number implies that more cases are disposed than filed each month. This will result in eventual clearance of pending cases. A negative number means that the state is adding to its pending cases each month.

Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh stand out at either extremes. Maharashtra builds a backlog of more than 100,000 cases each month  while UP clears more than 44,500 pending cases each month. Karnataka clears about 34,000 pending cases each month.

Uttar Pradesh, which has 2,513 pending cases per judge and a total of 631,290 cases pending for more than 10 years, is clearing 44,571 cases each month, five times faster than the national average. Gujarat and Bihar, which have a high ratio of cases pending for more than 10 years, continue to pile on more cases each month.

Why some states will never be able to clear pending cases (at the current disposal rates)
States that build a backlog will never be able to clear their pending cases at the current rate of clearance. The 10 states with the fastest-growing backlog are Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar, Delhi, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Meghalaya, Sikkim, and Orissa.

Among the states clearing the case backlog, the southern states of Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu are the best. They will clear all pending cases within six years. Uttar Pradesh, which has the highest number of pending cases per judge, will also clear pending cases within 10 years due to its high case disposal rate.

Two pending criminal cases for each civil case
The NJDG allows us to see the criminal and civil cases pending in each state. This helps us understand the rate at which justice is delivered to criminal cases relative to civil cases.

The national average is two pending criminal cases for each pending civil case. Bihar, Uttarakhand, and Jharkhand have almost five times as many pending criminal cases to civil cases. At the other extreme, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, and Punjab have a very low ratio.

In sum
Delhi and Orissa have the worst rating. Bihar, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal are the next states with a poor rating. Of these, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh may get better in coming years because they are clearing pending cases faster. Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim score high. The district judicial systems of these states need to be studied and best practices replicated in other states. However, they are piling pending cases each month.

We can predict the states that will soon face a crisis. For example, states like Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, and Maharashtra, which are accumulating pending cases each month, will soon be in the red on parameters of pending cases per judge and cases pending for more than 10 years. On the positive side, states such as Karnataka and Kerala, which are clearing pending cases every month, will soon reduce the number of pending cases per judge. It is well known that India’s judicial infrastructure is crippled. 

This analysis helps us understand where the problems lie. Our analysis reveals where to invest on judicial infrastructure, fill vacancies for judges, and provides the evidence needed for urgent reforms and target the reforms at the right areas. 

(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Shobit Mathur is Executive Director, Vision India Foundation. Nomesh Bolia is Associate Professor at IIT Delhi. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend.)
Shobhit Mathur and Nomesh Bolia

Shobhit Mathur and Nomesh Bolia

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