The recently unveiled India Justice Report 2019 makes pertinent observations on aspects of judicial case disposal, vacancies, infrastructure and diversity, among other issues in its chapter on the Indian Judiciary, reports legal news website barandbench.com.
Highlights of the report on the state of the Indian Judiciary (at the High Court and subordinate court levels) include the following.
Judiciary remains low priority in Budget allocation
As noted in the study, spending for the judicial set up is shared by the government at both the Central and state levels, "with the concerned state government funding the lion’s share." However, the judiciary remains a low priority when it comes to state funding. Illustratively, the study notes: "On average, no state or UT apart from Delhi spent even 1 per cent of its budget on the judiciary. Nationally, India spends 0.08 per cent. All states combined (excluding the central government) spent 0.54 per cent of their total expenditure on the judiciary in 2015–2016. Just one state/UT spent more than 1 per cent, which was Delhi, with 1.9 per cent. Beyond Delhi, the percentage of budget spent on judiciary ranged from 0.1 per cent (Arunachal Pradesh) to 0.96 per cent (Punjab). There were eighteen states spending between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent on the judiciary, including thirteen from our large and mid-size states."
Working of Courts: No significant improvement in key parameters
With respect to the functioning of courts in India, the study focused on case pendency, judicial vacancies and case clearance rates. Case pendency was measured per judge and in terms of overall case pendency at the court. All parameters were studied at the High Court level as well as at the level of subordinate courts. Additionally, the parameter of change in judiciary spend to state spend was also measured.
Notably, the study reveals that the case pendency before subordinate courts in West Bengal stood at 0. Significant improvement was also noted in terms of other parameters studied with respect to the State. The report states, “Courts across states and UTs have been struggling to improve on key capacity metrics. Of the 25 ranked states, West Bengal was the only one to have significantly improved.”
The study, however, made note that such quantitative analysis cannot be construed in simple terms to rank one state over the other when it comes to evaluating the efficacy of courts.
"It would be simplistic to draw conclusions and correlations between any two states on their respective performance on static or trend indicators because, of a total 24 indicators, five- year data was available for only 9. In addition to this statistical limitation, the intrinsically complex nature of the judiciary and its various functions precludes any simple conclusions based only on quantitative analysis," it says.
Glass Ceiling yet to be broken
On the topic of gender diversity in the Indian Judiciary, the report states, "Unfortunately, despite wide acceptance of the value of gender diversity, the actual presence of women in state judiciaries is underwhelming"
7 states and 1 Union Territory were found to have no women judges in their High Court Benches.
At the subordinate court level, among large/mid-sized states, Telangana is found to have to the largest share of women judges at 44%. However, the study makes note of a general pattern where the proportion of women judges drop when it comes to the subordinate court level across all states, except for Tamil Nadu.
For instance, in Telangana, the share of women judges at the High Court level drops to 10 per cent. Similarly, Punjab, with 39 per cent at the subordinate level, drops down to 12 per cent in the High Court. However, an exception has been noted when it comes to Tamil Nadu. The report notes,
"This pattern is apparent everywhere, with only Tamil Nadu breaking the trend with a high number of women at the High Court level (19.6 per cent), and more women than its quota of 35 per cent in the subordinate courts," the study found.
The report goes on to note that ‘no state has adopted affirmative action for women judges in High Courts’.
At the subordinate level, however, the States of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Uttarakhand provide for reservations in the subordinate judiciary.
No High Court/Subordinate Court in the country is working at full capacity
The study notes that there is not a single court in the country that is working at full capacity.
"Not a single High Court or state’s subordinate judiciary had reached its complete complement of sanctioned judicial posts...Each of our eighteen large and mid-sized states had High Court judge vacancies of above 25 per cent i.e. 1 in every 4 sanctioned High Court judge positions had not been filled...
...Even in states where judges are most needed, vacancies were on the rise. For example, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, two of the five states with the highest number of pending cases, also showed subordinate court vacancies growing over 5 years (the financial year 2013–2014 to 2016–2017)."
The report goes on to note that between 2012 and 2017, there has been more improvement in addressing the issue at the subordinate court level, rather than at the High Court level.
Judicial vacancies and court infrastructure
The report states that if the courts were to work at full capacity across India, there would be a shortfall of 4,071 court halls. The existing number of court halls is more than enough to accommodate the working strength of the judiciary, as it stood on March 2018.
However, if the sanctioned strength of judges in each state were met, the study has found that only four states would have sufficient courtrooms. In other words, 24 states would face a shortage of court halls if their sanctioned strength was met. Further, only two Union Territories would have sufficient courtrooms in a similar scenario.
The Centre's present plans to add to court infrastructure would not help in addressing this hypothetical shortfall either.
The workload on the rise
Case clearance rates and case pendency determines the workload of courts. On an average, a case remains pending for 5 years at the subordinate level, the report has found. At the High Court level, case disposal was found to be the slowest in Uttar Pradesh (with 4.3 years being the average case pendency period).
Overall, the number of cases pending in Indian courts is on the rise, states the report. It goes on to explain: "One measure of the change in the number of pending cases is the clearance rate. If a state disposes at least as many cases as it receives in a year, it is not adding to its pending workload. Only five High Courts managed this; in the states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, and Tripura.
At the subordinate court level, only eight states and UTs qualified, namely Gujarat, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Tripura, Odisha, Lakshadweep, Tamil Nadu, and Manipur. On a five-year basis, the picture is only slightly better: only seven of the eighteen states have managed to lower the number of pending cases in subordinate courts and six of eighteen in High Courts."