Pendency of cases: Response from PRS

Readers responding to this previous post wanted to know the methodology employed by the PRS in their study. The following is their response:

The estimate for time required to clear cases is computed by dividing (Number of pending cases) by (number of cases resolved in a year), both using data for calendar year 2008. We have aggregated these across all HCs (and across all subordinate courts), so these are averages and there will be variations within these groups. Though the methodology could be refined, these figures give an order-of-magnitude estimate to solve the problem. [We are assuming that courts will resolve cases using a first-in-first-out approach; so all new cases will be addressed only after all pending cases are resolved. Also that all cases take the same amount of time to resolve.]

Importantly, these numbers are way below some other estimates that talk of a few centuries to clear pending cases. For example, see this Indian Express article. I am unable to work out the methodology for these estimates. If you take into account fresh cases, the pendency rises every year – as new cases every year are higher than those resolved in a year. Delhi High Court is an exception – in 2008, it resolved more cases than fresh ones; if it maintains the same run rates for both institution and resolution of cases, pendency will be zero in 9 years (much lower than 466 years mentioned in the Express story).

Madhavan (madhavan at prsindia dot org)

Written by
Tarunabh Khaitan
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1 comment
  • The ratio that Madhavan reports answers the following question:

    1. *Assuming that no fresh cases are filed*, how long will it take the court to clear the current case load at the current work rate?

    It is not clear to me that this question is the right question to ask regarding pendency because it ignores the fact that new cases are added to the docket every day. If one takes into account that fresh cases are added all the time — as Madhavan himself recognizes in the second paragraph of the post — then one can ask the following more meaningful question:

    2. Taking into account both the existing backlog and the new cases added every year, how long will it take before the court achieves zero pendency?

    The formula for this is simply (Number of existing cases) divided by (Number of cases resolved in a year – Number of new cases added every year to the docket). This formula is valid so long as the number of cases resolved in a year strictly exceeds the number of new cases added to the docket in a year. Of course, if the number of new cases equals or exceeds the number of cases resolved, then pendency will never reach zero. Even though it is not totally clear, it seems to me that a formula like the above has been used to conclude that the Delhi High Court will achieve a pendency of zero in about 9 years time.

    In my opinion, an even more meaningful question one can ask regarding pendency is:

    3. If a case is filed today, then how long will it take on average before it is cleared by the court?

    I suggest that this is what interests most of us. We are typically not interested in knowing how long the court will take to clear all of the backlog; rather, we want to know if we file a case, how long will we have wait typically for a decision?

    I am sure a formula to answer this question can be worked out [under some assumptions] but of course it will be more complicated because the question is more complicated.