I boarded a connecting flight from Kolkata to Bengaluru. My co-passenger, a chatty elderly gentleman, said he had been visiting Bengaluru for 19 years, not because he loved the city but because of a land dispute case!
As we parted ways at the airport, I wished him luck with his case and hoped his next visit to Bengaluru would be to enjoy the city rather than running around the High Court premises.
But as I sat and opened the day’s newspaper, my heart sank. I felt terrible for the old man.
The front-page headline read: Number of cases pending in Courts to hit 5 crore! If the elderly gentleman had seen this, he would have gone straight to the hospital instead of the High Court.
But it is India’s judiciary that needs immediate hospitalisation else we are heading for chaos.
Addressing an event at the Delhi High Court, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said the number of pending cases is inching towards the five-crore mark and then rued that the Government had limited powers to appoint Judges.
Ever since the Supreme Court shot down the Government’s suggestion of creating a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) to replace the Collegium appointment system, the Government and the judiciary have been at loggerheads.
In 2016, the then CJI Justice Thakur shed tears at an event attended by PM Modi, asking why the Government is not approving the Judges’ list sent by the Collegium. Things have improved since then with the appointment of 11 Judges to the Apex Court and the appointment of 233 Judges to the High Courts. But there is a long way to go.
The Department of Justice reported that the 25 High Courts in India have a sanctioned strength of 1,104 Judges. But there are 387 vacancies with a working strength of 717, as of April 2022. A few days ago, the Law Minister said the working strength was now 777. India currently has 59 lakh cases pending in High Courts, which translates to about 7,593 cases per Judge!
In 2016, India Today magazine published a report on how long cases are heard in State High Courts. In our State, it reported that if you filed a case in the Karnataka High Court today, you could expect it to be in the Court until the beginning of 2025.
During this time, one will go to Court about 12-13 times, as the average time between hearings in the Karnataka High Court is 78 days. If you are lucky, you get four hearings a year and each hearing will last just 6 minutes!
Yes, the report says some Courts have a very short ‘hearing time.’ In Patna, a Judge hears a case for only 2 minutes! One wonders if justice truly is delivered when you hear the case for just 2 minutes.
This lack of Court time and corruption in the judicial system has also today led the judiciary to be viewed not only as a justice mechanism but also as an ‘injustice delivery mechanism’.
Today since Courts take so long, people use the threat of filing a case to delay justice. The other issue is accountability. While the Lower Court Judges can be punished, the Judges of Superior Courts can be removed only if two-thirds of the MPs want to impeach a particular Judge.
This is the same number needed to amend the Constitution! So, these Superior Court Judges have been attested to almost the same importance as our Constitution!
Then there is the ever-exploited PIL — Public Interest Litigation. Judges must be better at rejecting frivolous PILs like silly obscenity cases against film stars and cases regarding the colour of their bikinis insulting religion. More importantly, the Judge who accepts such cases should be dismissed as it indicates their ability to judge is flawed.
But the biggest problem is Government Departments. Central and State Governments are the biggest litigants in our High Courts and the Supreme Court. Approximately 46 percent of pending cases before the Courts pertain to the Government.
The 230th Law Commission report on reforms in the judiciary (2009) stated that the responsibility of unclogging the judiciary was with the Central and State Governments since they are the biggest litigants in the Courts.
The report noted that Governments are just approaching the Courts to pass the buck. But the truth is they are buying time. When was the last time we heard the Mysuru City Corporation or Mysuru Urban Development Authority win a case in our city?
They file cases knowing well they will lose, but they file a case to harass, a Court case means time to negotiate. Once a deal is struck, the Department either weakens a case or drops the case all together. It’s a racket.
For now, while the Law Minister rues the lack of Judges and the inability of the Government to appoint Judges, he must first address this State-sponsored harassment via litigation propagated by Government Departments.
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