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Fix logjam of judicial arrears

Last week, Prime Minister Mahmohan Singh alluded to the immense backlog of pending cases in our courts, which may add up to as many as three crores, saying that something needed to be done. It is of interest that the prime minister had made similar comments in 2008 while addressing a conference of chief ministers. At that time, he had said that he agreed with the idea that more judges should be appointed in high courts and trial courts to tackle the huge logjam of cases. He had termed the mounting arrears of cases in courts at various levels as ‘a key challenge’, and assured that the central government would provide all help to tackle the problem while asking the states to do the same. He had repeated these sentiments in the year 2010, and even in 2012 at a conference of chief ministers and chief justices, when he counted corruption in the judiciary and court delays as among the common litigants’ problems that had to be examined and remedied. Five years have passed since the prime minister made his original comments, yet little has been done to surmount the challenge of mounting arrears despite Singh’s holding important portfolios in the cabinet besides being the prime minister. He seems to be repeating the same speeches at similar occasions without doing anything substantial to fix the problem.

The latest figures released by the Supreme Court reveal interesting facts about our staggering judicial backlog. In 2011, in the Supreme Court alone, the number of admission matters saw an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year’s figures, while the number of regular matters saw an increase of 13.9 percent over 2010 figures and a 20 percent rise over 2009 numbers. Pendency in the High Courts, up to September 2011, showed an increase of 1.39 percent over previous figures and there has been further deterioration in the pendency as far as the subordinate courts are concerned. The problem of escalating arrears is not a recent phenomenon. Though a number of commissions and committees have been set up to cure the problem, their suggestions have not been implemented. The backlog of cases is causing a huge strain on the judicial system and has dented the people’s faith in this integral pillar of our system. This is lowering the high prestige and moral authority of the courts in India. Justice delayed is justice denied.
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