Pendency of Cases in Indian Courts

This blog has, on several occasions, noted the outstanding work that PRS Legislative Research is conducting on India’s representative institutions. I was thrilled to find a new document prepared by them on the pendency of cases in Indian courts. The analysis reveals, inter alia, that assuming there are no fresh cases and no increase in judge strength, it would take 9 months for the Supreme Court to clear all pending cases; and that India’s current judge-to-population ratio stands at approx. 12.5 judges per million, compared to 104 for the US. Hopefully such studies will expedite the process of judicial reform.

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  • I completely agree. With respect to their work on Parliament, it is fairly apparent what methodology was adopted. In this case, it would be very interesting to learn how the estimate was arrived at.

  • I have often wondered if judge-population ratio is at all a relevant indicator for determining what the strength of the judiciary should be. Would it not be more pertinent to look at the case load per judge (defined as pending cases/existing judge strength) to determine if we have adequate number of judges? I ask this because, in a study done at the National Judicial Academy, we found an almost one-on-one correlation between the rate of institution of cases (which impacts the load) and social development indicators. Therefore, within the country itself, there is wide dispartiy in the case load in Delhi or Kerala, as opposed to say Jharkhand or Orissa. There is no proportionate correlation between population and the load on judges. This indicates many things (including issues of access to justice), but in my opinion, would also point to the need for looking beyond the judge-population ratio in determining judge strength.

  • I would also like to point to a simple analysis which I did that shows a strong correlation between low institution rates of civil litigation and high levels of case backlog. There is also a remarkable variation in the institution rates of civil litigation across the different states of the Indian Union – with the southern states and the eastern belt states representing the high and low extreemes. I wonder if this should be a cause for concern for the legal fraternity.

  • Thanks, Kannan, for linking to your excellent analysis. Like Aparna, I am sceptical whether the standard reasons cited by the establishment are the root causes of delay in our legal system. Scholars such as Galanter and Dhavan have pointed out many peculiar features of our judicial system's functioning that add to the backlog. An interesting set of proposals towards providing lasting solutions was outlined in this article, published over a decade ago.

    I think opting for empirically grounded quantitative analyses of the issue (such as the one you adopt)is indeed the best way forward. Our legal system has been dogged by this problem for well over a century, and tackling it will require going beyond lazy generalisations and untested assumptions.