Pendency of cases in lower courts has soared to a new record, crossing the four-crore mark for the first time. On Tuesday, the total pending cases in district and subordinate courts stood at 4,00,25,060. It was 3.2 crore at the start of the Covid pandemic in March 2020.
In the three-tier judiciary, including in the Supreme Court and 25 high courts, the pendency of cases has significantly increased in the past one-and-a-half years, from 3.7 crore in March 2020 to 4.6 crore now — almost one crore cases were added during this period. The SC alone has 70,000 cases currently pending, which was 60,600 in March last year.
One of the reasons behind such a significant rise in pendency is the inability of the justice delivery system to adapt to the new challenges and swiftly migrate to the digital format and the e-courts system.
A software is now being used by every court to accept e-filing, e-pay of court fees, and issue of e-summons. Issues like video conferencing, broadband, high-speed internet connectivity and computerisation of courts have long been addressed.
After the outbreak of the Covid pandemic and the lockdown, there had been an initial hesitancy and reluctance from the Bar associations in several states who refused to accept e-courts and digital hearings. The higher judiciary, too, didn’t compel them or initiate full court proceedings even in state capitals where high-speed internet connectivity was not an issue.
The law ministry from time to time had been writing to the apex court and the high courts to make it compulsory for e-filing of petitions, payment of court fees electronically and issue of e-summons through e-mails. However, barring the commercial courts, these directions have not yet been made mandatory for other courts, including the high courts.
Pushing hard for implementing these judicial reforms, the law ministry, with the help of the e-committee of the SC, recently formed a subcommittee consisting of seven judges of high courts for drafting model e-registers which will replace manual ones. Another sub-committee comprising HC judges and domain experts has been formed by the e-committee to extend e-court benefits to three identified marginalised sections — women, the LGBTQIA+ community and persons with disabilities.
For several decades now, the courts have never been able to function at full strength given huge vacancies of judges. Against a sanctioned strength of 24,490 judges in district and subordinate courts, the current strength is 19,367. These courts continued to have more than 5,000 vacancies for at least a decade now. The 25 HCs with 465 vacant posts of judges is the worst in history.