Earlier this year, Daksh India (of which blog member Harish Narsappa is a founder) conducted the ‘Access to Justice’ Survey. Through a method of random sampling,researchers interviewed about 9000 litigants, spread over 300 locations across the country. Of these, 4696 litigants had civil disputes pending before the courts. In this piece Rishabh Sharma and I analyse these civil cases. In particular, we examine those cases which have been pending for more than 5 years in the court of first instance. Our analysis is aimed at understanding what are the characteristics of these cases, and whether there is any pattern to the kinds of cases that are likely to witness such long pendency.
We find that there is a pattern behind long pendency of cases in the courts. Powerful parties have the ability to mould the system in their favour and obtain early relief when they approach the courts, but delay the matter when they are sued. Similarly, the most dis-empowered segments of the population are more likely to face delays in their cases as compared to comparatively better off persons. Finally, we find that the subject matter of a case impacts its likelihood of long pendency. Suits relating to land and recovery of money – both closely connected to a well-functioning economy – are more likely to face delays compared to other types of cases. This raises concerns about the economic costs of delays.