gigantic gap

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 29 Jan 2019 12:31:42

ONCE again, the Union Law Ministry has come out with shocking details of how a High Court Judge is saddled with as many as 4,500 cases and how the country’s 24 High Courts have to tackle the backlog of 47.68 lakh cases while the national figure of pendency of overall cases is 2.91 crore at the end of 2018. Going by these statistical details, one may not be wrong in concluding that such a massive backlog may never be covered in the next several decades. And during that time, countless more cases, too, will get piled up crying for attention. This is a terrible picture, to say the least. 

How does the nation sort out this massive mess? In the past quarter of a century, the judiciary as well as the Government have tried various various ways of tackling the challenge, but to no avail. The failure to reduce the burden came from multiple reasons that included shortage of judges at all levels, senseless litigations that went on and on in courts for years, the unwillingness of the lawyers to push things hard so that the process of justice is speeded up, the willingness of the litigants to keep dragging the cases for decades ...! There are several thousand cases in various courts pending for close to a hundred years. And to say the least, there seems no solution to this problem. It appears that the backlog of cases will keep mounting.

One of the good methods of handling this challenge was Lok Adalat. Another method was sorting out disputes through arbitration. Efforts were also made to educate the lawyers’ community as well as judges at all levels to quicken the pace of the judicial process. No matter all that, the pendency of cases has kept swelling every passing year.

This very awareness gives a sickening sense of helplessness in the minds of the common people. They realise that the country’s judicial system will never be able to deliver the goods in an efficient manner. The Law Ministry has done its work by releasing the statistical details of pending cases. It may try to move matters by trying to appoint more number of judges at all levels. Yet, such measures, too, do not promise a great leap forward, thanks to the overall number of pending cases.

There is certainly a way out that may bring about at least a partial change. This way calls for a nationwide assessment of all cases and directly scrapping those that are frivolous. This exercise alone may bring down the number of cases by lakhs. This exercise may not be easy, of course, but it could prove useful in reducing the number of pending cases. Many litigants may not even agree to such an approach. Yet those who may agree will serve some purpose all right. Another way can be to ask the judges to work overtime and hasten solutions in litigations. There is one more approach available as well.

It pertains to the refusal by the judges to admit cases that have prima facie no substance. Some judges are also trying to impose fees on public public interest litigations so that busy-bodies would not get a chance to grab attention they do not deserve. True, each of these ways will have its own difficulties. Yet, these ways are worth the try so that at least the overall pendency would get reduced considerably.

Fundamentally, however, all these measures would be successful only if some legal reforms are undertaken to empower the Government and the judiciary to take revolutionary steps. The process of introducing legal reforms should not be allowed to drag for long time. It is at this point that the political and legislative communities work together on this point as part of the national legal agenda -- beyond the political dividing lines.

The question, however, is: Can we make this as a critical point on the national agenda beyond politics? Can we appeal to the good sense of all political parties to come together on this?