February 29, 2020
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The Slim Case Diary

Law ministry wakes up to clearing huge case backlog

The Slim Case Diary
Illustration by Sorit
The Slim Case Diary

Clear Those Files

  • SC data says 54,562 cases pending in the apex court, 42 lakh at the HCs and over 2.79 cr cases are pending in the lower judiciary
  • To clear backlog, the govt is considering introducing double shifts in subordinate courts
  • To effect this, it proposes to initially re-employ retired judges and judicial staff
  • Rs 5,000 cr provided to improve the justice delivery system
  • Move to set up village courts


In an effort to reduce the pendency of cases before India’s lower courts, the Union law ministry is considering evening courts and effective lok adalats across the country. A plan to run district and subordinate courts in double shifts is also in place. The 13th Finance Commission award of Rs 5,000 crore to the states is for improving justice delivery through pendency reduction by 2015. A grant of Rs 1,000 crore had already been released for the fiscal year 2010-11.

It was during a recent review of the district and subordinate courts by the law ministry that the decision to run the courts in double shifts was taken. The meeting also analysed the infrastructure support required for the subordinate judiciary, the plight of undertrials and the functioning of family courts.

“We want to cut down on pendency and the litigation expenses. The aim is to attend to litigants with petty cases at the earliest. The district and subordinate courts will hear more cases so that the litigants need not bear the expenses for long periods. Both the pendency and expenses of the litigants were causes for concern. They needed to be addressed. It will take time to run the courts in double shifts across the country,” Neela Gangadharan, secretary, justice department, told Outlook. The government has issued guidelines on the need to be flexible on funds movement, taking into account local requirements. It has also written to the states to ensure speedy implementation.

Lawyers as well as judges have welcomed the move. Former Bombay HC judge Hosbet Suresh says, “This is a very welcome move. Several litigants have had to make the rounds of the district courts from faraway villages, that too for small matters. Double shifts will mean higher number of disposal of cases and that will certainly cut down the burden on the courts. Appeals will be heard after the judgement since court hours will be longer, so overall it’s a good decision.” Adds Praveen Kumar, a lawyer at the Ghaziabad district court, “Matters in district courts take so long that the litigants feel harassed. A major relief for the litigants (due to double shifts) would be early disposal. And that means less expenses. All this will help give greater access to justice.”

As an ad-hoc situation, to introduce the double shifts the government proposes to re-hire retired judges and judicial staff. However, at a later stage more court managers will be appointed. (In July, the ministry had started a national pendency reduction mission to cut down on the backlog of cases in the higher judiciary.)

The law ministry has also allocated Rs 150 crore for the establishment of village courts across the country. Many states are in the process of establishing such courts. The Centre is providing a one-time assistance of Rs 18 lakh and recurring assistance of Rs 3 lakh for three years to each village court, “Petty issues will be heard and disposed of now at the litigant’s doorstep. Running around and expenses incurred on the part of litigants will be less. The overall chain will help the higher judiciary to cut down on petitions and appeals,” says Gangadharan.

Further, there is a move to computerise courts. The e-courts project has already been allocated Rs 935 crore. The project covers 14,249 courts across the country. It will provide computer hardware, power back-up, services for automation of case management, citizen-centric services such as certified copies of orders and also create a national judicial data grid. The blueprint looks impressive. If the implementation is equally effective, then there will be relief, at long last, for the hapless litigants.

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